Kelp beds are some of the most productive and biodiverse habitats on the planet. They provide vital habitat in the form of shelter, feeding, spawning and nursery grounds for a huge diversity of fish and marine life, helping sustain healthy fish populations and therefore local livelihoods and economies.
To assess the benefits of kelp recovery and the ecosystem services it provides for people, nature and the economy, SKRP partners have initiated a number of projects. The below all focus on how the Byelaw impacts local fisheries.
Crab and lobster surveys
A study of the crustacean pot fishery off Selsey Bill compares the abundance, size, weight, sex and condition of Edible Crab, European lobster and Spiny Spider Crab caught in the pots at sites in and outside the Sussex Nearshore Trawling Byelaw area. Repeated each year, this will provide data to monitor changes in the fishery associated with the anticipated recovery of the historic kelp beds.
Commercial fisheries data
Fisheries landings data, captured by Sussex IFCA and the MMO, provides insights into fish populations and economics. The total value of Sussex fisheries is a measure of economic status, while landings per unit effort (LPUE) can be an indication of the health of fish populations.
SKRP chose ten indicator fisheries to monitor over the long term:
Demersal (fish that live and feed near the seabed): Black Sea Bream, European Sea Bass, Pollock, Dover Sole, Plaice and Ray
Shellfish: Common Cuttlefish, Edible Crab, European Lobster and Whelk.
These either use kelp as a shelter or nursery, or are indicators of a healthy community e.g. the presence of rays indicate the food web is healthy and capable of supporting large predators. Meanwhile, Common Cuttlefish were chosen as they are likely to be one of the first species to recover as they lay many eggs and can use rocky habitats for spawning.
Shellfish landing data
Similarly, localised shellfish landings data is available for Sussex through the Sussex IFCA Shellfish Permit Byelaw. This provides a general understanding of the total number of pots each fisher is deploying each month which will be monitored over time to assess change. Catch returns focus specifically on the following groups:
European Lobster (Homarus gammarus)
Edible Crab (Cancer pagurus)
Common Cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)
Whelk (Buccinum undatum)
Spiny Spider Crab (Maja brachydactyla)
Prawns (Palaemon spp.)
Velvet Swimming Crab (Necora puber)
Fish Intel data
The cross-Channel Fish Intel project uses innovative technology to understand the movement of fish to inform an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management. The technology is being used on two key species in Sussex, Black Sea Bream (Spondyliosoma cantharus) and European Sea Bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) as a way to measure the impact of the Sussex Nearshore Trawling Byelaw. Fish are tagged with transmitters and released and tracked using acoustic telemetry to gain an understanding of how nearshore habitats are used by individual species now, and whether this changes as habitats return.
Socio economic studies
Surveying fishers helps SKRP understand the social and economic value of the Byelaw to the Sussex inshore fishing community and how this changes over time. Information gathered includes individual fishing practices, income, wellbeing, views on the Byelaw, current fisheries status and management, and future fisheries management options.
The data from a 2021 socio-economic survey can be used as a baseline against which to assess future changes in fishing activity, and perceptions and value in response to anticipated recovery of the benthic fauna and flora resulting from the Byelaw.
The plan is to undertake a further survey in 2025 with the same respondents as well as a wider proportion of the fleet