Regardless of gear or catch, for those that fish for quota species, the EU-wide Landing Obligation – or Discard Ban – represents a sea-change in fishing practice. A key ambition of the discard ban is to incentivise fishermen to avoid catching unwanted fish in this first instance and to achieve this, it is anticipated fishermen will start to trial new methods of fishing and modify their fishing gear.
In my role as a scientist at Cefas I have worked closely with fishermen to test modified beam trawls, otter trawls, Nephrops trawls and gill and trammel nets to reduce unwanted catches and support the transition to low-or-no-discard fisheries. With the impetus of the ban, the demand from fishermen for more knowledge on potential gear modifications, and their likely impact, has increased. However, a lot of information from gear trials was only available through technical reports or as publications in scientific journals, where it is difficult for fishermen to access. The situation was clear: to expect fishermen to adapt to the new management system, information on fishing gear options had to be made more readily available.
This realisation was the start of GearingUp: which began by collecting information on the many trials of fishing gear tested across Europe. The following step was to present this information in a useful and engaging way so it could be accessed by different users – which was when I realised I needed reinforcement! Fortunately, after outlining my challenge to Funding Fish, GearingUp’s funders, they agreed to provide the support to bring a team together. The GearingUp team represents a unique blend of expertise, from fisheries science and industry-led innovation to dedicated fisheries-focussed communications: bringing together Cefas, Mindfully Wired Communications, digital agency Dewsign and fisher-led charity, Fishing into the Future. The team knew it was essential that the right kind of information was presented, in the right way, in order that it could be used to guide decisions about fishing gear options, and so it seemed clear that the GearingUp tool should be designed by fishermen. Tapping into industry’s decades of know-how on fishing gear innovation, we pulled together a clear vision for the project and tool through surveys, interviews and workshops.
It is very exciting to see and use the – soon to be public! – GearingUp tool. We believe it has the potential to provide an important resource to fishermen by helping fishing businesses succeed within the new fishing paradigm of a Landing Obligation. The tools’ launch in December is just the beginning for GearingUp, because as more trials are added, the more useful it will become. To enhance the tool further we’re also exploring the option to share non-published trials, by supporting the addition of gear experiments trialled independently by fishermen. In the future, my hope is that we can expand the scope of the tool even further – into a wider geographical range – and also in terms of the information provided; as with the project so far, all these enhancements will be driven by input from fishermen who, by using and adding to the tool, can make it their own.