International scientists collaborating on Smart Lobster project in Galway Bay

Nephrops emerging from burrow29 July 2020 - The Marine Institute is collaborating with scientists in Spain as part of a new project, Smart Lobster, to monitor the digging activity and maintenance of burrows of the Nephrops norvegicus, commonly known as the Dublin Bay Prawn, using the EMSO SmartBay Observatory located in Galway Bay.

Current methods for counting populations cannot account for variability in the animals emerging from their burrows. This study will solve that problem by helping to understand the magnitude of that variability and lead to more accurate assessment of population numbers to ensure a sustainable fishery into the future.

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Smart Lobster is monitoring the burrow emergence behaviour of Nephrops norvegicus by using the underwater camera on the EMSO SmartBay Observatory. The Observatory is located on the seabed (20m to 25m depth) off the coast of Spiddal in Galway Bay and this area is one of the North East Atlantic fishery grounds for this species. The project will also involve the use of a new autonomous imaging device, which has been designed for long-term deployment.

The project's Chief Scientist, Dr Jacopo Aguzzi from the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC) in Spain is working with Marine Institute scientists Jennifer Doyle and Dr Colm Lordan to provide specialist fishery management and policy knowledge. The scientists will evaluate and analyse the video footage provided by the camera to assess the digging activity and maintenance of burrows by Nephrops. Scientists will also analyse the role of ecological and environmental factors that modulate burrow emergence, such as the presence of prey or predators.

The results of the Smart Lobster project will have implications for stock assessment of this species, allowing standardisation of demographic data obtained with trawl nets (fishery-dependent sampling) and towed sledges (fishery-independent sampling) upon animals' burrow emergence variability.

Dr Paul Connolly, CEO of the Marine Institute said, "Off the coast of Ireland, the behaviour of Nephrops are being tracked using video-cabled observatory technology for the first-time. Nephrops are one of the most important commercial fishery resources in Europe, and the knowledge from the Smart Lobster project will assist in the sustainable management of this species. It is vital that countries come together to work on international projects like these, so we can share data, expertise and infrastructure, and deepen our knowledge on our marine resources."

The Marine Institute is also coordinating the operational aspects of the project. A steel frame was constructed to assist with monitoring the activity of the Nephrops norvegicus and was deployed by a team of divers. The camera and the imaging device will record the activity of up to 15 Nephrops norvegicus within the frame over the next 12 months.

Commenting on the EMSO SmartBay Observatory, Dr Aguzzi said, "Coastal cabled observatories of this kind represent an excellent opportunity to provide pilot studies to technologically advance more classic stock assessment approaches, providing new ecological data in multidisciplinary and highly-integrated fashion."

Alan Berry, Marine Institute's Research Infrastructure Manager said, "By supporting and promoting national research infrastructure such as the EMSO SmartBay Observatory in Galway Bay, the Marine Institute facilitates world class scientific research and supports new knowledge for improving marine ecosystem management."

The Smart Lobster project is one of three transnational access projects funded by the EMSO-Link project (Grant Agreement 731036).

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For further information, please contact:
Sheila Byrnes e. m. +353 (0)87 225 0871
Sinéad Coyne e. m. +353 (0)87 947 7090