Managing the density of crab and lobster pots is crucial to sustainability Photo: University of PlymouthManaging the density of crab and lobster pots is crucial to sustainability Photo: University of Plymouth

Managing crab and lobster catches could offer long-term benefits to fishermen and the environment and make the industry more sustainable, according to a new study.

Scientists from the University of Plymouth exposed sections of the seabed on the Lyme Bay Reserve to differing densities of pot fishing. In areas of higher density, fishermen caught 19% less brown crab and 35% less European lobster. The effect on the ecosystem was also significant with two important reef species, Ross coral and Neptune’s Heart sea squirt, 83% and 74% less abundant respectively.

Researchers say the study provides evidence of a pot fishing intensity ‘threshold’. ”Before we started this research, very little was known about the precise impacts of pot fishing over a prolonged period,” said Dr Adam Rees, post-doctoral researcher and lead author. “We have shown that – if left unchecked – it can pose threats but that changing ways of working can have benefits for species on the seabed and the quality and quantity of catches,” he added.

The four-year study, published today in Scientific Reports, a journal published by the Nature group, was funded by Defra and the Blue Marine Foundation, and saw researchers working with local fishermen and the Lyme Bay Consultative Committee.

This latest study comes just days after the Marine Management Organisation signalled its intent to ban bottom trawling at various offshore marine protected areas (MPA) around the UK. Lyme Bay Reserve has been protected since 2008 and previous research by the University has shown that several species have returned to the area since the MPA was introduced.

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