Go to any stretch of shoreline and you are likely to see people fishing, but have you ever wondered about how many people fish, how much they spend, or if they have any impact on the environment? Some people might assume that it is just a few people sitting out there for much of the day and not really catching much. But is there a catch, and how can we find out what is really happening in marine recreational fishing (MRF) across Europe?
For those not in the know, it may be surprising to find out that the potential impact of MRF is recognised in European fisheries legislation, and so is managed in accordance with the Common Fisheries Policy. As a result, annual catches of certain species (e.g. cod, sea bass, sharks, tuna, eel, salmon, & pollack) are monitored across Europe under the Data Collection Framework. These are not easy surveys to do as a wide variety of fishing methods are used (e.g. line, pots, nets, spears) over wide areas, and often no list of fishers or sea fishing licence exists. Despite these challenges countries across Europe have been collecting data on MRF (including the UK), but no attempt had been made to generate estimates at a European level.
People fish all over England and Wales on the coast and out at sea
Enter the ICES Working Group on Recreational Fisheries Surveys (WGRFS) – this is the forum where scientists from across Europe come together to share MRF data and methods – where someone suggested using the data collected since 2001 to understand the situation across Europe. This may sound easy, but it was not, as the data were collected in different ways depending on the country, and were in a variety of languages. Move forward two years, and a landmark synthesis has just been published in the journal Fish & Fisheries. The work reveals that there were 8.7 million European recreational sea fishers (corresponding to a participation rate of 1.6%) and expenditure was €5.9 billion. Annually 77.6 million days were fished, with MRF representing 27% of the total removals of Western Baltic cod and European sea bass. The impact is likely to be higher as fishing tourism was not included in this analysis and can be large in some countries (e.g. Norway).
At the same time, the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries commissioned a study about marine recreational and semi-subsistence fisheries across Europe. The report, published in July 2017, showed the total economic impact of MRF was €10.5 billion and supported almost 100,000 jobs, but the impact varies between fish stocks, representing between 2-72% of total catch by both commercial and recreational fisheries. MRF may also have other impacts on the marine environment, particularly in coastal habitats. However, more information and research is needed to determine MRF-induced impacts and separate them from other anthropogenic impacts.
So is there a catch?
MRF does have impacts, but there are also many benefits – it is a high participation sport enjoyed by millions, with significant expenditure that supports thousands of jobs, which can have significant impacts on fish stocks and the marine environment. Some countries have exploited this through managing fish stocks for both recreational and commercial fisheries to maximise the economic benefit to society (e.g. USA, Australia, and New Zealand). The evidence of the importance of MRF to Europe is now clear.
Cefas scientists have published a study which proposes a new methodology to manage the impact of underwater noise on marine life.
The work, titled “Marine Noise Budgets in Practice” and published in the journal Conservation Letters, allows policy makers to measure how much noise pollution a particular marine species or protected area is exposed to, and to set targets to manage pollution levels.
A harbour porpoise, taken by Solvin Zankl
What makes underwater noise, what does it mean for marine animals?
Underwater noise pollution can disturb or injure many marine animals, from the largest whales down to microscopic zooplankton. The study will assist ongoing efforts in the UK to better manage underwater noise. Noise can be produced by activities such as shipping, sonar, explosions, pile driving (e.g. to construct offshore wind farms) and geophysical surveys (e.g. to look for oil and gas beneath the seabed).
Marine noise budgets: the new approach
The new method considers the population density of marine animals and their exposure to noise pressure across a managed area of ocean to map the risk it poses. In doing so, policy-makers can better target efforts to manage this noise.
Mapping risk and calculating exposure indicators - the new approach demonstrated using North Sea harbour porpoise density
The article uses data from the 2017 OSPAR Intermediate Assessment, which carried out the first international assessment of impulsive noise activity (underwater noise made by pile driving, geophysical surveys, explosions, and some sonar activity), and was coordinated by the UK.
Dr Nathan Merchant, Principal Scientist at Cefas said, “There is growing scientific evidence that the noise pollution we release into the oceans is having a range of negative effects on marine organisms which use sound. Studies like this one provide environmental managers and policymakers with the tools they need to understand how the risk of impact from this emerging threat can be reduced.”
I have been working on the MCCIP programme since its inception, and am very proud that we are marking our ten-year anniversary with the release of the 2017 report card - our most ambitious report yet. As a partnership, we decided to use our latest card to reflect on how our understanding of marine climate change science has evolved over the past decade, and the lessons we have learnt about effective communication with policy makers and wider stakeholders.
The latest card builds upon contributions from 400 scientists to MCCIP report cards over the past decade, and Sir David Attenborough has said of the 10-year endeavour:
Concern about the state of our seas has caused them to be studied more intensively – and extensively – than ever before. Here is a summary of the findings. They have never been more important.
Indeed, the extensive findings from this report card (and associated Science Reviews) range across the full spectrum of marine and climate change science, including (amongst others) impacts on fisheries, temperatures, oceanographic processes, pH balances, and seabirds.
In the 2017 report card, the MCCIP partnership finds that:
Despite year-to-year fluctuations in temperature over the past decade, a long-term underlying warming trend is still clear. Some of this variability can be accounted for through short-term changes in the strength of Atlantic Ocean circulation, which has been linked to recent severe winters in the UK.
Climate change is clearly affecting marine species and habitats, but not necessarily in the ways anticipated 10 years ago. Some warm-water marine species such as squid and anchovies targeted by fishers have become more common place in UK waters , with clear links to climate change, whilst for non-native species, other factors (e.g. ballast water, ship hulls) have been more important for their establishment.
Seabirds in the UK face an uncertain future due to climate change, with the productivity of some species such as fulmars, Atlantic puffins, little and Arctic terns and black legged kittiwakes being impacted by temperature rise, whilst severe storms are affecting breeding success of razorbills.
Ocean acidification has become established as a major issue for marine ecosystems, and may be taking place at a faster rate in UK seas than in the wider north Atlantic. Overall the impacts are expected to be negative, most notably for shellfish growth and harvest in future decades.
Extreme high-water events are becoming more frequent at the coast due to sea-level rise. However, this has not led to a corresponding increase in coastal flooding to date due to continued improvements in flood defences, emergency planning, forecasting and warning.
I have witnessed the key role that Cefas has played is success of the partnership since its inception. We provide the secretariat for the partnership and 32 of our scientists have contributed widely to all report cards. Working closely with our colleagues and peers across partner organisations and the scientific community, we established a clear shared vision, and MCCIP quickly became established as a trusted, authoritative, voice on the impacts of climate change at the coast. I am very pleased to note the interest our model and collaborative ethos has received, even being adopted elsewhere in the UK and internationally.
All of those involved in MCCIP have played a valuable role in highlighting marine climate change issues, from large scale impacts on ocean circulation (and the effects this has on the climate we ‘enjoy’ in the UK) to the harmful effects microscopic algae and pathogens might have on our health. These issues present significant challenges to how we manage marine resources and conserve species and habitats, some of which we are only starting to understand. In ten years’ time, the MCCIP hope to continue to play a key role in communicating marine climate science; helping to inform the important decisions we need to make to ensure clean, safe, healthy and productive seas in the face of climate change.
Paul Buckley is a Marine Climate Change Scientist at Cefas. He has contributed to MCCIP for over 10 years and sits on the MCCIP Secretariat.
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