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Scotland's Marine Reserve Sees Lobsters Thrive

05 October 2016

UK - The first and only fully-protected marine reserve in Scotland is proving highly beneficial for marine conservation and fisheries, with lobsters more than doubling in numbers and increasing in size.

Conducting potting surveys over four years in Lamlash Bay, Firth of Clyde, Scotland, scientists from the Universities of York and Bangor monitored populations of European lobster (Homarus gammarus), brown crab (Cancer pagurus) and velvet swimming crabs (Necora puber).

They found that protection in the marine reserve was beneficial for lobsters, with their density, length and weight all being greater than that found at other sites. Catches of egg bearing female lobsters were also twice as high in the reserve, and these females carried an average of 22 per cent more eggs– increasing breeding potential.

Tagging studies also showed that lobsters are spreading out from the marine reserve as numbers grow, thereby boosting local fisheries.

However, although adult lobsters are thriving, juvenile lobsters and brown and velvet crab numbers are declining, which may be evidence of competitive displacement or predation.

This could be due to the relatively small size of the Lamlash Bay reserve, showing that larger reserves are needed to allow marine ecosystems to recover more naturally.

Dr Bryce Beukers-Stewart, Lecturer in York’s Environment Department and supervisor of the study, said: “Our findings provide evidence that temperate marine reserves can deliver fisheries and conservation benefits, but they also highlight the importance of investigating multi-species interactions, as the recovery of some species can have knock-on effects on others.”

Dr Leigh Howarth, who led the study during his PhD at the University of York and is now employed at Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences, added: “Studies into the effects of marine reserves remain scarce in temperate and cold waters and are particularly limited in Europe and the UK. However, our research within Lamlash Bay has shown that a wide range of species and habitats can benefit from protection.”

“Marine reserves are only one part in creating sustainable fisheries. It is widely agreed that a combination of managing fishing effort, fishing gears, and establishing protected areas, all of which have received mutual consent from managers, fishers, and other stakeholders, is by far the most effective way to restore stocks and marine ecosystems.”

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