This was discussed last week at a workshop introducing a potential fisheries management tool aiming to reduce the impact of fishing on the seafloor.
The new approach aims to change fishers' behaviour by providing them with a detailed map showing the areas where the risk of impacting the seafloor – and the use of credits – is highest, meaning that it is not recommended to fish in these areas.
The approach has been developed by the BENTHIS project, which has found that it is possible to reduce seafloor impact without a loss of fishing opportunities.
"Our studies show that this conservation approach seems to be nicely aligned with the fishing industries' requirement of economic efficiency as the least vulnerable areas provide the highest returns in terms of catches or revenue. Because additional fishing causes hardly any damage in the areas where there was heavy fishing before it is the historically least affected areas that should be avoided," explained workshop organizer and BENTHIS project contributor GerJan Piet.
Bottom trawl fisheries represent the main human activity to have a negative impact on the seafloor. Until now the two most likely candidates to mitigate fishing impact and conserve seafloor integrity have been technical measures (e.g. change of beam trawl with tickler chains to pulse trawl) or closure of Marine Protected Areas. Whether the introduction of the pulse trawl can contribute to the conservation of the seafloor is still under study and the implementation of MPAs is often associated with resistance from the fishing industry and lack of compliance.
Changing fishers' behaviour through a credit system could therefore provide an additional method that comes at no cost to the fishery.
"It doesn't prevent you from fishing certain areas but rather guides you to alternative areas. It leaves the fisher to decide where to fish while keeping a tab on the seafloor integrity to make sure it isn't compromised any further," Piet continued.
Representatives from the Dutch demersal fishing industry (VISNED) were invited to the workshop to share their knowledge and reflect on the applicability of the approach.
"This workshop serves as a first step in the possible further development of the approach and can been seen as a starting point for collaboration between industry and science on this specific issue," said Piet.
"We hope that the fishing industry is interested in trying this method, and that we can get some fishers to try to apply it in their work."
The workshop was organized during the Working Group on Maritime Systems (WGMARS) annual meeting in Copenhagen last week. One of the group's focus areas is improving interaction between scientists and stakeholders.
The interdisciplinary group is finishing work on its three-year Terms of Reference, including a social network analysis of ICES expert groups, and their final report is due in January.