Fisheries & Aquaculture News

Study Furthers Aim of Offering New Insights into Pollack Populations

The announcement by Defra of new measures to restrict pollack fishing highlights the urgent need for more data about the species, according to the team working on the Pollack Fisheries Industry Science Partnership (Pollack FISP) project.

The project is collecting data on pollack biology, stocks and movement, and fishers’ experiences. While its data hasn’t been factored into the latest restrictions, which limit commercial fishing to unavoidable bycatch, the project team aims to provide detailed evidence to help inform decisions about the species’ future.

The new Defra guidance is accompanied by a written commitment to identify possible management measures for recreational angling, in collaboration with sector representatives.

It follows advice, issued in June 2023 by the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES), that there should be no commercial pollack catches in the region (subareas 6 & 7) for 2024.

The ICES advice was based on sharp falls in pollack catches, with a 72% decline in commercial landings in the Celtic Sea and English Channel in the last 20 years.

However, ICES also considers pollack to be a "data deficient" species, meaning there is often very limited information to inform decisions about stock management.

The Pollack FISP project, led by the University of Plymouth and funded by Defra, aims to fill such a void.

They also hope their research will reinforce the critical importance of pollack to the UK’s fishing communities and are currently working to provide vital information about pollack stocks and biology, while also gathering angler opinions and experiences.

“Our work with the fishing communities of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall aims to build more evidence on which future policies can be based. The ultimate aim is for fishers to continue to function in a way that preserves their livelihoods and enables stocks to be managed sustainably,” said Emma Sheehan, Associate Professor of Marine Ecology and lead of the Pollack FISP project.

Pollack is the fourth most valuable finfish for commercial vessels under 10 meters, is of major socio-economic importance to the recreational charter fishing fleet and plays a key role in the UK’s marine ecosystem.

Prior to the ICES announcement, local anglers had started gathering relevant data on pollack and working with scientists from the universities of Plymouth and York, the Angling Trust, and the Professional Boatman’s Association.

This collaboration between the angling community and scientists puts the team in a strong position to address concerns about stock levels from both recreational and commercial anglers.

“Close collaboration between scientists and the south coast charter skippers is vital for the success of the Pollack FISP project. The skippers we work with provide reliable and high-quality data, which hopefully will allow us to produce the evidence that's needed to support sustainable fishing in the future. Healthy pollack stocks are vital for the livelihoods of both the commercial and recreational sectors, so we are committed to doing what we can to learn more about this fascinating species,” said Dave Uren, Professional Boatman’s Association Fisheries Liaison Officer.

vTo date, 14 charter skippers have collected length and catch rate data on over 9,000 fish caught off the south coast of England, with a sub-sample of fish being taken to analyze age, growth, spawning behavior and diet. This information is needed for effective assessments of stock health.

A key part of the data collection is tagging and tracking individual pollack, and since the project started, scientists from the University of Plymouth have fitted 50 fish with acoustic tags.

Each tag emits a unique ‘ping’ and allows the fishes’ movements to be tracked using the FISH INTEL Interreg France (Channel) England network of receivers around the UK and Europe.

The tagging has already yielded success, with pollack tagged off the coast of Plymouth having been detected by the receiver network.

As more data is collected, the project will show their movement and distribution patterns along our coastline, allowing the team to identify the timing and direction of pollack migration and provide insights into essential habitats for the species.

It will also be running workshops and interviewing anglers and representatives of the commercial fishing industry to gain insights into their experiences of pollack declines and the effects that management measures will have on their livelihoods.


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