Shark By-Watch UK 2 Field Studies

Under the over-arching themes of the project's three work packages (see 'About'), Shark By-Watch UK 2 is undertaking three field studies in fisheries around the UK.


Bristol Channel Skate & Ray Fishery

Commercial trawl and net fisheries have historically had important target and non-target fisheries for various skate and ray (such as thornback, blonde, spotted and small-eyed ray) in the Bristol Channel, and although these fisheries continue to operate with the implementation of a voluntary seasonal closure on juvenile ray grounds (respected by UK and Belgian fleets), the current skate and ray TAC (Total Allowable Catch) has become increasingly restrictive. This study will investigate the current status of the various commercial ray species within the Bristol Channel, with some focus on the voluntary 'ray box' seasonal closure, using a range of gear types running from July 2015 to December 2015. Fisher-led self-sampling surveys will collect biological data on skates and ray (e.g distribution of sex ratios, maturity and size composition), together with compiling knowledge of habitat preferences throughout the Bristol Channel to determine the extent of spatial abundance, juvenile/ nursery grounds and stock residency.



The Wash Skate and Ray Fishery

Fishing vessels in the southern North Sea operate in areas that support historically important target and non-target ray fisheries, such as those for thornback, blonde and spotted ray. Fishermen report that these species are locally and seasonally common off the coasts of Lincolnshire and Norfolk, with significant abundance reported in the Wash. However, limited allocation of skate and ray quota for the under 10 metre and non-sector fleets has meant a significant level of enforced regulatory discards of skates and rays in this fishery. As a result, traditional fishing practices have been forced to change, with a subsequent loss of fisher knowledge on the local ray fisheries and also a loss of valuable information for input into the stock assessments for North Sea skate and rays.

This study will create a better understanding of rays in the Wash, (including the Norfolk and Lincolnshire coast) by monitoring ray catches and by-catch by various commercial gears from July 2015 to November 2015. Fisher-led self-sampling surveys will collect biological data, together with compiling knowledge of habitat preferences throughout the Wash to help to determine the extent of spatial abundance and stock residency of juvenile and adult skate and ray off the Norfolk and Lincolnshire coast.


Thames Estuary Thornback Ray Fishery

Working with Thames Estuary fishermen, the Kent & Essex IFCA, Wm Morrison Supermarkets Plc, Defra and the Marine Management Organisation, potential mamagement measures for a sustainable and discard-minimal fishery for thornback ray in the Thames Estuary will be investigated.

The previous Shark By-Watch UK pilot conducted fishermen-led surveys of thornback ray within the Greater Thames Estuary area. The results showed that catches of thornback ray can be substantial at certain localities and at certain times of year. However, due to low allocation of TAC for thornback ray to the local under 10 metre fleet in the area, high levels of discarding remain a significant issue.

Targeted by inshore commercial fishermen, thornback ray in the Thames Estuary is an ideal candidate for specific spatial, seasonal and technical measures to develop local management procedures, as the vast majority of the Thames Estuary area is managed locally by the regional, Kent and Essex IFCA. Fisher led self-sampling surveys, guided by Cefas scientists, will be undertaken to establish the current spatial abundance of thornback ray, collecting valuable data on the health of the stock, together with identifying any habitat preferences for feeding, spawning and juvenile nursery grounds.

Read more about the field studies in our 'invitation to tender' document here (please note the deadline for submissions has now passed).