Guest blogger Charlotte Eve Davies, a PhD student at Swansea University, talks about receiving a Society of Biology Travel Grant to go to the AVC Lobster Science Centre, Canada.
‘So what do you do?’ is the question I get asked rather often. People look at me and assume, at the age of 24, I should be settled down with a ‘grown up’ job. Alas, I am still studying, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In truth, there isn’t a single word to summarise my work. Underpinned by a degree in biology, I have since branched out into various areas. Pathologist? Maybe. Marine biologist? I like to think so. Lobsterologist? If only that was a word! I like to keep my options open.
Last autumn, with the help of a Society of Biology Travel Grant, plus one from the Climate Change Consortium for Wales, I was able to take my love of all things lobster to the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island.
During my time ‘across the pond’, I learnt a lot about lobster fisheries!
When you’re looking at my area of research – assessing lobster disease, fisheries are the target. I think that Welsh fisheries management could learn some valuable lessons from the systems implemented in the US / Canada. Over there, v-notching, a system where females with eggs have their tails cut to indicate their ability to produce offspring, thus enhancing future stocks, is mandatory. Both scientists and fishermen alike there recoiled in horror when I told them that in Wales you can still catch and land berried hens (egg carrying females).
In Maine, USA, 1872, the first law was implemented banning the capture of berried lobsters, but it was a measure already practiced by many Maine lobstermen. Last year the Maine lobster fishery was awarded Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification as a sustainable and well-managed fishery. The Prince Edward Island lobster fishery entered into the process of being assessed for the same award whilst I was there.
Why are we so behind the times?
Unlike the co-managed Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities in England, fisheries in Wales are managed by various sectors of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association, who decide upon Sea Fisheries Legislation, or ‘by-laws’, which are then implemented by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Last year (2013), the Llŷn Fishermen’s Association bravely decided to vote in favour of implementing their own voluntary ‘berried ban,’ – disallowing landing of females with eggs. This unilateral move may have influenced the recent decision by the Welsh Government to propose a berried ban. Amongst a raft of new crustacean management regulations being proposed, they are consulting on a berried ban in Wales for the long term benefit of Welsh fisheries.
The current Welsh crustacean consultation includes an evidence report outlining the case for a ban and other potential best practice management measures aimed at securing the long-term sustainability and profitability of the Welsh fishery. In Wales, unlike the rest of the UK, fisheries regulations are able to extend out to the 12 mile limit which really makes these effective management measures.
Opposition to these proposed by-laws comes from some fishermen, who worry about a depleted catch if the berried hens are off limits. However, it has been found that putting berried hens back does not cost the fishermen anything after the first season and the lobsters put back today can be recaptured once the eggs are shed.
Each 90mm lobster returned produces 7 lobsters for the fishery – based upon documented egg production at that size and assuming only a 0.1% of eggs result in lobsters entering the fishery. It’s a lobster win-win!
American and Canadian lobster fisheries are a lot larger than ours, but considering their success, we can afford to take some tips from them. The UK landed more than £32m worth of lobster in 2011, but unfortunately there are also imports of American lobsters into the UK (mainly for the restaurant industry), introducing an ‘invasive species’, leading to hybrid Euro-American lobsters and the possibility of disease transfer… but that’s a whole different kettle of fish!
Before I leave, a few words of advice on the collaboration front. Never give up. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and if you have an idea, make it heard! You never know, you could wind up halfway across the world kissing seals (yuck), feeding turtles, and learning an awful lot more than you bargained for…
The deadline for the next round of grants is 31st March 2014.