Combining scientific and fishers' knowledge to identify possible roundfish 'Essential Fish Habitats'

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Fishers have often complained that standard United Kingdom groundfish survey data do notadequately reflect the grounds targeted by commercial fishers, and hence, scientists tend to make overcautiousestimates of fish abundance. Such criticisms are of particular importance if we are to make acreditable attempt to classify potential essential fish habitat (EFH) using existing data from groundfishsurveys. Nevertheless, these data sets provide a powerful tool to examine temporal abundance of fishon a large spatial scale. Here, we report a questionnaire-type survey of fishers (20012002) that invitedthem to plot the location of grounds of key importance in the Irish Sea and to comment on key habitatfeatures that might constitute EFH for Atlantic cod Gadus morhua, haddock Melanogrammus aeglefinus,and European whiting Merlangius merlangus. Plotted grounds were cross-checked using records ofvessel sightings by fishery protection aircraft (19851999). A comparison of the areas of seabedhighlighted by fishers and the observations made on groundfish surveys were broadly compatible forall three species of gadoids examined. Both methods indicated important grounds for cod and Europeanwhiting off northern Wales, the Ribble estuary, Solway Firth, north of Dublin, and Belfast Lough. Themajority of vessel sightings by aircraft did not match the areas plotted by fishers. However, fishingrestrictions, adverse weather conditions, and seasonal variation of fish stocks may have forced fishersto operate outside their favored areas on the (few) occasions that they had been recorded by aircraft.Fishers provided biological observations that were consistent among several independent sources (e.g.,the occurrence of haddock over brittle star [ophiuroid] beds). We conclude that fishers knowledge isa useful supplement to existing data sets that can better focus more detailed EFH studies.

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Bergmann, M. , Hinz, H. , Blyth, R. E. , Kaiser, M. J. , Rogers, S. I. and Armstrong, M. J. (2005): Combining scientific and fishers' knowledge to identify possible roundfish 'Essential Fish Habitats' , Benthic habitats and the effects of fishing,265276,American Fisheries Society Symposium 41,Bethesda, Maryland, ISBN: 1-888569-60-3 .

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