Cullen Scholar - Luke Batts

The Marine Institute is highlighting the postgraduate students who are completing projects as part of the Cullen Scholarship Programme. The programme builds national marine research capacity and capability and equips graduates with the skills and expertise in raising awareness about our ocean, as well as Ireland's rich marine biodiversity and ecosystems.

Luke BattsLuke Batts

Title of Research: Testing key uncertainties for monkfish assessment and management using management strategy evaluations

Higher Education Institution: Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT)

Supervisors: Dr Cóilín Minto (GMIT), Dr Deirdre Brophy (GMIT) and Dr Hans Gerritsen (Marine Institute)

What is your area of research?
My research focuses on one of the most valuable species in the Irish fishing industry - monkfish, also known as anglerfish. Scientists use a range of methods to assess fish populations to determine the past and current status of a fish stock, as well as make predictions about the future of the stock. For the monkfish stock, there are uncertainties in species identification in the catch, discard estimation, ageing and growth, which has led to challenges in assessing and managing monkfish stocks in European waters.

My research focuses on developing modelling techniques that represent the demographics of the species to improve monkfish management advice. Population dynamics models can be used to improve our knowledge of monkfish populations and address the challenges presented by the uncertainties surrounding these stocks. My research has included developing a new method for estimating growth in fish from survey length-frequency data, as well as alternative stock assessments and a framework for Management Strategy Evaluations. Management Strategy Evaluation is a tool used by scientists to simulate the workings of a fisheries system and allow them to test the performance of different strategies or management procedures.

Why is your research important to Ireland's marine sector?
The fish stocks around Ireland are an important resource and are some of the most productive in Europe. The Marine Institute assesses many of the important commercial fish and shellfish stocksMonkfish around Ireland. The monkfish stocks are no exception and are of economic importance to the Irish fishing fleet and ecological importance in general, so it is important to continually improve our knowledge of these stocks and our ability to manage them sustainably.

What has been the benefit of being part of the Marine Institute's Cullen Scholarship Programme?
The connection with the Marine Institute has been extremely valuable to my research. I have research supervisors with expert knowledge on the monkfish stocks, and have access to a range of datasets. It has also been great to meet many other scientists working within the Marine Institute's fisheries team, whether at sea on fisheries surveys or at the Marine Institute's facilities.

What have been some of the memorable experiences during your Cullen Scholarship?
My most memorable experience of my time so far during the Cullen Scholarship was having the opportunity to travel to Copenhagen in 2019 and be involved in the International Council for the Exploration for the Seas (ICES) stock assessment benchmark for monkfish stocks in Europe. This was especially rewarding as some of my Cullen research contributed to the development of an accepted assessment for one of the monkfish stocks.

The most challenging aspect of my Cullen Scholarship has been improving my statistical knowledge and developing my modelling skills. However, I have developed these skills thanks to the guidance of my experienced supervisors, which has also been very satisfying.


Editor's Notes:
The Cullen Scholarship Programme has provided grant aid to the value of €3 million supporting 31 PhD and three MSc students from 2014 to 2020. The research addresses a number of the 15 research themes identified in the National Marine Research & Innovation Strategy 2017-2021. This scheme is funded by the Marine Institute under the Marine Research Programme with the support of the Irish Government.