Isles of Scilly IFCA are a partner in a new project ‘Fish Intel’, led by the University of Plymouth with partners from the UK, France and Belgium. The total project budget 4.1 million euros of which €2.8million is funded by the European Regional Development Fund via the Interreg France (Channel) England (FCE) Programme.We are receiving 126,000 Euros in funding that will be used to pay for us to set up a pilot telemetry network on Scilly to help us learn more about the movement and migration of the spiny lobster or crawfish (Palinurus elephas).

 

A hundred miles to the south of Scilly, the French marine research institute IFREMER is carrying out a similar programme of research around the Ushant and Sein Islands in the Iroise Sea. We will be able to compare our field techniques and results, leading to a greater level of combined knowledge. The more we know about a species, the more informed we can be about making good decisions that ensure we have a sustainable fishery and healthy wild populations

 

Crawfish are a significant commercial species on the Isles of Scilly. They fetch very good market prices and are mostly caught in tangle nets set on the seabed. They are also the only species that are both a conservation feature of our Marine Conservation Zones and commercially fished. At the moment the fishery is managed through a minimum landing size (MLS) of 110mm. This helps to ensure that individuals are able to reach breeding age before they are removed from the fishery. It is important for us to continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the regulations and mechanisms that we use around Scilly. Can healthy and sustainable populations of crawfish be managed through protection within small MCZs or is it more effective for us to control fishery effort over our entire district?

 

It is incredible how little we know of the movements of species that remain largely hidden to us under the sea. Crawfish have a very long larval lifespan, so it is very likely that the eggs and larvae will travel significant distances before they settle onto the seabed and start to grow. There is evidence that adults migrate (and fishermen on Scilly have picked up a few tags from individuals that were captured in France). The question is how far they travel; at what stage in their life history and ultimately what the best approach is to protect them.

 

We have set up a network of 12 receiver stations to the east of St. Martins. These units sit on the seabed and record any tagged individuals that move past. With this method we can hopefully gather thousands of data points which will show small scale movements. Over the summer divers from have been attaching tiny transmitters onto the shells of individuals. Obviously, the challenge with crawfish is that they shed their shells as they grow; which means that we can only gather data up to the point that the individual moults.

 

The data from this project will help to inform future national policy and local decisions on the management of this species. Ultimately, our hope is that this project will be a springboard to other tagging projects that can help build our knowledge of migration and movement.

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