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Seafish Trials New Automated System to Monitor MPAs

08 June 2012

UK - A new cost-effective, underwater video system, utilising a towed camera sled, has been trialled by Seafish to see whether fishermen themselves can monitor environmental conditions in marine (nature conservation) protected areas (MPAs) and collect the requisite data to an agreed standard.

The aim is now to extend the trial and test the system on three commercial fishing vessels, based along the east, south and north west coasts of England. This system will allow fishermen to collect information about the nature of seabed habitats, and inform the process to designate and manage MPAs.

The trial utilised a towed camera sled specially designed and assembled by Dr Andy Woolmer of Salacia Marine. The camera sled is fitted with an underwater video camera, a separate stills camera, an underwater light and a laser scaling system to assess the size of objects recorded by the cameras. The initial trial was carried out on the 38 ft Panther, skippered by Peter Nicholas, based at Burry Port in Wales.

“It is a legal requirement to monitor and report on the condition of MPAs. This is currently the responsibility of Natural England who would normally employ external marine consultants to do this. The alternative we are investigating here is to see how fishermen could be involved in the process,” said Richard Caslake, Seafish Project Manager.

“The Seafish ‘Environmental toolkit’, developed in collaboration with Natural England, already shows fishermen how video and camera methods can be used to gather evidence to demonstrate compatibility and acceptability of fishing in MPAs. By extending the trial to three commercial vessels we will be able to see if the quality of the data collected could be used to report on the condition of MPAs,” he said.

Andy Woolmer will be helping the commercial fishermen to collect underwater footage from their fisheries area. “The initial trial went very well, and after some small modifications I am now looking forward to working with the fishermen in the trial areas, said Dr Woolmer.”

This project is being led by Seafish in collaboration with the National Fishermen’s Federation Organisation (NFFO), the South West Fishermen’s Association (SWIFA), local fishermen’s associations participating in the pilot, Natural England, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), CEFAS, the Inshore Fishery and Conservation Associations (IFCAs) and Defra. It is being funded by the European Fisheries Fund.

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