Irish-American marine research to combat dwindling fish stocks

Identification of commercial fishing grounds from space – this is the ultimate goal of a hi-tech, collaborative study between the Irish Marine Institute and the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association currently taking place in Irish waters. The project will develop the understanding of the way fish spawn in relation to oceanic conditions. This will help to identify breeding grounds and spawning seasons, protect stocks, and lead to a more secure the future of Irish Fishing industry.

"In these days of declining fish stocks and stock recovery plans, this research will be of vital importance to understand how best to conserve and protect spawning areas", said Dr. Peter Heffernan, Chief Executive at the Marine Institute. "This has been a successful project which has forged strong International links that were of benefit to Ireland and the US", he concluded.

A two phase survey was conducted on the trawler Emerald Dawn and the RV Celtic Voyager. The first identified concentrations of fish eggs and larvae around the Irish Coast. The second focused on particular "hot spots" and took samples in these areas at different depths with a specially developed sampling system MOCNESS (Multiple opening and Closing Net Environmental Sampling System)

"The MOCNESS is useful because it takes accurate measurements throughout the water column at discreet depths," claimed Greg Lough, Senior Scientist, NOAA. "This means that we can pinpoint egg and larval distribution in three dimensions. An added bonus is an on board camera which identifies what species you are looking at before the samples are even out of the water."

During the survey perio,d special aerial photographs were taken by an American satellite that shows temperature and salinity conditions for the areas studied. These will demonstrate the oceanic conditions under which the spawning took place.

Combining the information provides stepping stones towards the ultimate goal of using satellite imagery to improve our understanding of commercial fisheries so that they can be protected and developed for the benefit of the fish, fishermen and all those concerned about the sea.

The study is part of a greater collaboration between the Marine Institute and NOAA which was established under a memo of understanding in Marine Science and technology. Other key areas for co-operation that are currently taking place include marine data management, harmful algal events which cause toxins and salmon migration.