EU backing for first `alternative' scheme - green light for Irish Sea research project

- (Fishing News, 8. July 2005)-

IRISH Sea fishermen are launching their own scientific project to examine the selectivity of prawn trawls and altematives to orthodox fisheries science, reports Tim Oliver.

Members of the Anglo North Irish FPO have received backing from the EU, Northem Ireland fisheries department (DARD), Seafish and scientists to set up what is believed to be the first such initiative in Europe to be started by a fishermens organisation.There are two major strands to the project - one is to examine the selectivity of prawn trawls that will not iilvolve doing away with the top cover as in the latest Seafish design, and the other is to look at different ways of assessing stock abundance and managing fisheries, with fishermen eentrally involved.

Trials at sea to examine the selectivity of prawn gear are scheduled to start in mid- August and Seafish gear technologists who developed the new coverless selective prawn trawl will be closely involved. Irish Sea fishermen do not like this design, as they say it will lose too much marketable fish. Research will look at the use of bigger meshes, bigger square mesh panels and modifications to covers among other things. A first meeting on this project with Seafish personnel and DARD officials was held on 23 June.

The second `alternative science' part of the project will involve setting up a laboratory in Kilkeel, working in partnership with DARD scientists based in Belfast. A major conference on this topic is planned for spring next year. Closely involved in this project is Icelandic independent fisheries scientists and consultant Jon Kristjansson, who believes that traditional stock assessments by ICES scientists are deeply flawed and that fish stocks benefit from fishing because it creates a better balance between the fish and available feed and allows fish to grow faster. He attended a workshop in Northern Ireland held over a year ago on alternative fisheries science and has advised the government in Faroe, where stocks increased when orthodox ICES advice was abandoned.

Another leading scientist involved in the project is Norman Graham, who chairs the ICES working group on fishing technology and fish behaviour. Mr Graham is a Scot who has worked with fishermen extensively formerly at the Marine Institute in Aberdeen and now at the Norwegian Marine Institute in Bergen, where he currently works. He strongly believes that this kind of initiative is something the EU Commission wants to encourage, and says the commission will listen to the advice that comes from it, said Alan McCulla, chief executive of the Anglo North Irish FPO.

"This is the first time in Europe that a fishing organisation has taken the initiative and driven things from the grass roots up like this," said Mr. McCulla.

"Our members desperately want to see a different approach to managing fisheries, one in which they are centrally involved. We need to co-operate more closely with the scientists and more importantly they with us, to give them a better insight into what's actually going on in the sea, which will hopefully lead to better quotas and a more profitable industry.

"A few people are understandably sceptical about this and worry about closer cooperation with the scientists, but just standing back from it all and complaining doesn't get you anywhere, there is no alternative but for us to work more closely together." The Anglo North Irish FPO is also involved in the Fisheries Science Partnership with CEFAS, but this project is entirely separate from that initiative.

He paid tribute to the Northern Ireland fisheries department (DARD) officials and scientists in Belfast who had been "outstanding" with the help and support they had given. Funding for the project is mainly from FIFG funds, with some national contribution from DARD.

"There is no magic wand to wave to solve our problems, but we believe that a lot of positive things will come out of this that will make a real difference and help to improve quotas and the general situation of fishermen," said Alan McCulla.

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End of story

This was written in 2005. Then we were preparing the project, and I brought over Menekhem BenYami, a world known fisheries adviser, to help on the project. We put up a plan on how to collect and analyze data, generally how we should carry on the project. I put up a lab in Kilkeel, with facilities to collect and analize samples and data.

Suddenly the project was discontinued by "slow going" and lack of discipline. I never knew why, but I suspect that ANIFPO was lead away because the project was challenging the orthodox science,

In the light of what happened, the sentences from above are interesting:

"The Anglo North Irish FPO is also involved in the Fisheries Science Partnership with CEFAS, but this project is entirely separate from that initiative. He paid tribute to the Northern Ireland fisheries department (DARD) officials and scientists in Belfast who had been "outstanding" with the help and support they had given."

(J. Kristjansson, 2009)

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