A Marine Institute-led project, on behalf of the fishing industry, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Agency (SFPA), is currently underway in the inshore sector, reports Pauric Gallagher.

The project uses inshore Vessel Monitoring Systems (iVMS), which automatically collect positional data, at 10-minute frequency in the Irish case, and will show how spatial data on fishing effort can be obtained from small vessels.

While iVMS is voluntary for the majority of the inshore fleet, since 2014, vessels involved in fishing razor clams are required by law to have a fully-functional iVMS system installed.

Other vessels participating in this project are doing so on a voluntary basis. For 2017, these vessels are involved in an expanded trial that will use sensors to identify the location and time at which gear is deployed from, and hauled back to, the vessel and will also use smartphone applications to report landings. The entire data record showing fishing position, fishing effort at the position, and fish catch at the position is then available electronically.

iVMS is important for a number of reasons; it provides a very precise way of mapping fishing effort and when coupled with landings data can even be used to map fish abundance. For bi-valve fisheries, the data demonstrates to the market compliance with seafood hygiene regulations, as the vessels have to fish within classified production areas. The data increases the visibility and quantifies the importance of the small vessel sector in coastal waters. Data on fishing effort and catch and the capacity to map the distribution of this accurately are fundamental to advising on sustainable harvesting of these species.

There are over 90 inshore (<12m) vessels with VMS in the Irish Sea who have an intention to fish for razor clams, about 70 of which are currently fishing and approximately 60 of these are in the North Irish Sea (Howth to Dundalk).

The Marine Institute will manage the installation, maintenance and data reporting from these systems until the end of 2017, through a contract with Applied Satellite Technology (AST). A smaller number of vessels has a system supplied by Succorfish M2M Ltd.

Oliver Tully, fisheries scientist at Ireland’s Marine Institute told Fishing News: “The need for iVMS-type data is greater in some fisheries than others. For stock assessment and managing fisheries, the spatial data that iVMS gives is more important for species that are sedentary such as bi-valves than it is for mobile species like crab or lobster. So, the need for each component of the data record (location, effort, catch) varies. For all species, effort and catch are important but the precise location of- fishing is less important, especially where the fish are moving through an area or are generally mobile.

“Another important reason for iVMS is to manage, and if necessary exclude, fishing activity from certain types of sensitive habitat. There are now a number of examples around the Irish coast that exclude dredging or mobile bottom gears from small areas within Special Areas of Conservation. For instance, these gears are excluded from reef habitat and seagrass habitat in Blacksod Bay and Roaringwater Bay SACs respectively. So, the need for iVMS depends on the policy and regulatory conditions in which a fishery operates, and also the type of data that are needed to properly assess the status of stocks that such fisheries target.”

He added, “For the razor clam fleet in the north and south Irish Sea, we now have two years’ of data from all 70 or so vessels, showing the distribution and level of fishing effort that is mapped on a high-resolution 100m grid and provides a first map of the distribution and fishing effort by the fleet.

“The fishery in the north Irish Sea now occurs more or less as a continuous band from north Dundalk Bay south to Malahide in waters from 0-lOm depth. The Marine Institute used this data in 2016, to design a study of the impact of the fishery on seabed, ie sampling in areas that had received different levels of fishing effort in the previous months.

In June 2017, the data will be used to design a razor clam survey with the North-East Coast Razor Clam Association, where we hope to survey the entire area using four commercial vessels.”

4 May 2017