A computer tool now provides fishermen with a visual description of what is happening to fishing and the ecosystem in the ocean, depending on the species and volume they are fishing. Researchers from Tromsø have helped create this through the large-scale MareFrame EU project.

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  Oddny Johnsen, Krysspress

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“Norway has one of the best fisheries’ management systems in the world, therefore experience from the Norwegian model is important for this project for the European Union,” states Petter Olsen, Senior Researcher at Nofima.

Together with Professor and Biologist Michaela Aschan and Social Scientist Kåre Nolde Nielsen from The Arctic University of Norway, he has contributed to enabling this large-scale EU project to develop a web-based decision support tool for visualising the consequences of alternative future management regimes.

Using this, fishermen, fisheries organizations, the industry and the authorities themselves can “play” with a variety of scenarios, and the tool can then calculate and visualize what will happen to the species in the ecosystem.

The tool carries out calculations based on both historical development and the current situation, and the possible future development of populations and species.

Objective to attain sustainable fishing

Despite improvement in recent years, the European Union has problems with its own management system. Many of the EU’s populations are overfished. For example, the current management system has resulted in the complete ruination of cod fishing in the waters west of Scotland.

The objective of MareFrame is to achieve sustainable fishing, and to improve the management of fishing grounds by involving fishermen to a greater extent, and considering the ecosystem as a whole.

For example, the interactive models allow you to define different fishing objectives, and the tool can then define what is the best management regime. The tool can illustrate what is needed for the cod fishing west of Scotland to recover and become profitable, and how long it will take.

A total of seven European seas and one area near New Zealand have been modelled in MareFrame, with the aim of improving the sustainability of the fisheries in these areas.

Seals not so important

“Until now it has been usual to recommend quotas based on the previous year’s fishing for each species, almost like an accounting system. When the stock of a species is reduced, the recommended quota is also reduced, and vice versa. The MareFrame tool takes into account developments throughout the ecosystem. For example, the fishermen west of Scotland believed that a large seal population is a major reason why the cod stock is greatly reduced. However, the calculations done by the researchers show that a reduction of the seal population will have little effect on the cod stock; the tool demonstrates that other measures are required to successfully re-establish cod fishing, explains Michaela Aschan.

Based on the possible alternative management regimes, the tool calculates what works best and is fastest, what might not work at all, and what gives the best results in the long term.

Financial calculations have also been incorporated into the model. This means that fishing is not only governed by how much it is possible to take out, but how much it is profitable to take out in order to achieve the best possible price.

Fishermen, researchers and managers have together arrived at the various objectives that form the basis of the calculation tool, by answering the question: “What is most important to you?”

More loyal by participating in the decision

“Two of the most important results of this project have been to put in place this calculation tool, and to enable a more bottom-up style of management. That means allowing the fishermen and their organizations to be parties to the decisions on what is needed to make fishing more profitable, based on what is possible and what constraints come in the way of achieving this objective. Thus, it is also possible to achieve greater loyalty to the decisions that are taken”, Olsen says.

“At the same time, the project has enabled researchers and fishermen to talk directly with each other – for the very first time in the case of many countries. And both parties have learned how useful this can be”, says Aschan.

In Spain, for example, the anchovy and sardine fishermen asked the researchers to create a model that calculates how much savings they had to set aside each year to avoid going bankrupt in the years when fishing was poor.

Multidisciplinary- and collaborative climate

The researchers in Tromsø have collaborated with each other, and with their international project partners, since 2000. This means they did not need to start at zero once they obtained the project, but could start by building on the research they had already done or had access to.

“When we apply for new projects we have the advantage that we have a well-established network that we can build on. This means that we have been successful in obtaining research funding from the EU”, Aschan says.

“We knew of many different researchers who had created models needed in this project.

By incorporating so many different models, we arrive at a correct and not least visual image of the current situation, and what needs to be done to improve fishing and the economy of fishing in the long term”, Aschan says. She says that the way the tool is created makes it easy to understand, and that the simplest tools have been the most popular.

“Users of the tool found it to be an eye-opener, and MareFrame has experienced that fishermen became far more committed to participating in fisheries management.

Already in use

The tool is mainly used for demonstration purposes and for education in fisheries management, and to show how different objectives can be in conflict with each other.

“The vast majority of those to whom we present this say “This is definitely something we need!”. And the best part is that now we do not need four years of research and millions of funding: We have the tools, structure and methodology, and a sort of “best practice” as to how fisheries can best take care of the entire ecosystem of the oceans”, says Petter Olsen. In the ClimeFish project, work is already been carried out to refine the tool so that it can accommodate climate change.

MareFrame has been running in the EU for four years, has cost NOK 70 million, and was completed in December 2017. Approximately 100 researchers and 28 partners have participated, and the project has been led by Matis in Iceland.

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