Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

Filling the Gap: Researchers & fishermen work together to improve knowledge of crab and lobster fisheries and help chart new era for UK fisheries.


Led by Bangor University and the industry-led Crab and Lobster Management Group (CMG), a new Fisheries Industry Science Partnership (FISP) funded project, the Filling the Gap – Crustacean FISP project, is working to close existing evidence gaps relating to brown crab and lobster fisheries in England and Wales. With the aim of feeding into a new era of UK fisheries management, the project will contribute directly to implementation of Defra’s recently published Crab and Lobster Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) for England, and future plans for Wales.

Despite weathering significant challenges over the past years, with a combined landings value in excess of £110 million in 2021, brown crab and lobster fisheries are among the UK’s most economically important fisheries. However, concerns have long been raised regarding increased fishing effort and, more recently, declining landings, especially of brown crab. Both non-quota species, significant gaps in our knowledge exist regarding these fisheries, and this was recognised in the prioritisation of the development of the recently published Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) for these species by Defra.

As part of their work to improve management of these species, several gaps – common to both English and Welsh stocks – have been identified by the CMG as critical to the development and implementation of assessments and harvest strategies that are responsive to changes in stock health. Correspondingly, the existence of significant uncertainties and assumptions in current stock assessment methodologies, and the need to improve this evidence base for effective management has been explicitly recognised in the newly published (14 December) FMP for England.

Working directly with the sector, the Filling the Gap – Crustacean FISP project aims to address these common evidence gaps. Over the coming months, fisheries scientists and industry stakeholders will work together to tackle gaps around catch data, the size structure of lobster populations, seabed impacts of potting activities, and ways to define soft-shelled brown crab, in support of management plans for these species in England and Wales. The evidence gathered by the project will directly contribute to the development and delivery of these plans; and will mean they are based on the best available evidence to effectively support the long-term sustainability and economic profitability of the UK’s fleets.

Principal researcher, Dr Natalie Hold, Bangor University explains, “Size data are especially important in assessments of crustacean species because they are very difficult to age, which excludes a whole suite of methods. However, there can be many factors which can affect the size of lobsters that turn up in pots. From the gear that is used, or the time of year, to the location. Therefore, using size data without any thought to how these factors may change across a time series, can lead to inaccurate assessment outputs. Understanding the changes in the fishery over time in terms of gear, location of fishing and how data collection has changed, will allow us to potentially correct for the influences of these factors and to use long time series of length data for assessments. The existing knowledge across the sector will be invaluable for this exercise, as will regular at sea research that can only take place in collaboration with industry.”

Lewis Tattersall, Head of Fisheries Management at Seafish says, “Brown crab and lobster are amongst the UK’s most valuable fisheries and are of particular importance to inshore fishers and coastal communities all around the country. Over the last few years, our work with the industry-led Crab & Lobster Management Group – and the collaborative development of a fisheries management plan for these species in England – has really spotlighted some of the key concerns and evidence gaps that exist in these fisheries. This FISP funded project provides a great opportunity for fisheries scientists to work with fishers on the ground to help gain a better understanding of the challenges facing stocks and, ultimately, to improve our understanding of how best to manage them to ensure long-term sustainability. The project directly targets some of the key gaps identified by stakeholders, including accounting for all catches removed from the stock and the wider environmental impacts of fishing activity. I’m really excited to see the results this project yields over the next few years, and the interface between science and management which is at the centre of this research.”

Welsh lobsterman Sion Williams of the Llyn Pot Fishermen’s Association adds, “Collaboration between the fishing industry and scientists is essential for a well-managed sustainable fishery. Drawing on the wealth of knowledge that individual fishermen and women have accumulated over the years, and weaving this alongside applied science will mean better fisheries management and, ultimately, healthier stocks and better catches in the long run.”

Anglesey fisherman, Lee Pritchard says, “I feel it’s very important that fishermen and scientists work together to learn as much as possible about lobsters and crabs and the environment they live in. I personally could, potentially, be fishing for another 35 years and my 9-year-old son is already showing a lot of interest. It’s important that fishermen and scientists have maximum understanding, so the fishery remains healthy and, hopefully, becomes healthier. It’s about thinking about tomorrow, not just today.”

The Crustacean FISP project will integrate research with knowledge from across the sector. As well as co-design of the research proposal with the CMG, over the past months Bangor University researchers have been speaking to people at sea and on the quayside [in Wales] to piece together a comprehensive picture of the sector, and how it has changed over time, particularly since the 1980s. As part of this, they are actively looking to speak to people involved or who have been involved in the sector, especially to expand the work into key English grounds. Whether you have an 8m or 20m vessel targeting lobster and crab, are a processor or wholesaler, or are retired from the industry, your insight is invaluable. The researchers would also like to hear from women involved in the sector, whether at sea or on shore. Historical perspectives pre-dating the 1980s are also welcome.

Alongside this, the researchers are looking for active crab and lobster fishermen in Wales and England to facilitate observer days from now until August 2024. During these trips researchers will measure catches, record string locations, and gather environmental data via loggers attached to pots and Olex bottom hardness mappers. The researchers are using the Olex mappers as a proxy for habitat and would be interested in working with fishermen or women who have the mapper installed. The team are also interested in using cameras to record size and sex of crabs and lobsters outside of observer days, to enable a full representation of the variation in catch over time and geographic areas. Any data collected will be treated as commercially sensitive and confidential, and none will be published or shared that will allow identification of any fisher’s individual data. Primarily, data will be used to model how aspects such as size of animals vary with environmental features such as the seafloor habitat, depth, distance from shore.

To get involved, or for more information visit https://www.bangor.ac.uk/sos/Crustacean_FISP or contact research officer Kath Whittey at: k.whittey@bangor.ac.uk