Research and Science

Sussex IFCA conducts research to gather evidence to support the decision making processes of the Authority. We work in partnership with a wide range of organisations. Below are highlights from some key projects we have been working on over the past few years. See our Four Year Research Plan and our Annual Research Report for more information. Do get in contact if you would like to discuss any research ideas or to discuss access to data.


 
SMALL FISH SURVEYS
Theme: Ecosystem interactions
Sub-theme: Small fish monitoring
 
We work with partner organisations to conduct surveys of small and juvenile fish in estuarine and inshore areas in our District. These areas are important as nursery grounds for many fish species, in particular those which are of commercial importance. Fish are also an important part of marine food webs and as indicators of ecosystem health.

More information:
IFCA Fish Survey Best Practice Guidance

Summary of all 2018 small fish surveys
Medmerry small fish survey 2018
Rye small fish survey 2018
Chichester Harbour small fish survey 2018

Tide Mills small fish survey 2017

Pagham Harbour Pilot Survey

Chichester Harbour small fish surveys 5 year analysis 2010-2014


See our other Chichester Harbour project work here

CUTTLEFISH EGGS
Theme: Sustainable marine resource exploitation
Sub-theme: Fisheries biology data
 
In 2018, we worked with fishermen in Hastings and the University of Brighton to find out more about the sustainability of the cuttlefish fishery. Cuttlefish come into Sussex coastal waters in the spring to breed. After they lay their eggs, they die. Some cuttlefish are caught in pots or traps and whilst this is generally a sustainable fishery, we want to decrease the number of eggs which are laid on the pots and subsequently lost. We also looked at the fishing pressures on the whole stock in the English Channel.

We received funding from the Hastings Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAG) to conduct a project called Supporting Sustainable Sepia Stocks.

Report 1: The biology and ecology of the common cuttlefish
Report 2: The English Channel fishery for common cuttlefish
Report 3: Assessing the efficacy of the egg receptors within cuttlefish traps
Report 4: Egg survival in the lab
 

OYSTER STOCK MONITORING
Theme: Sustainable marine resource exploitation
Sub-theme: Fisheries biology data
 
There is a small-scale but locally important fishery for native oysters in Chichester Harbour. Fishing by dredging used to take place for a couple of weeks each November but unfortunately stock levels have been too low in recent years to allow any fishing activity. We conduct an annual stock assessment to inform flexible management measures. We also work with the environmental health officers from the local councils to gather catch per unit effort and length-frequency data. We are working with the Native Oyster Network and the Solent Oyster Restoration Project to explore options for oyster restoration.

The Chichester Harbour Oyster Partnership Initiative (CHOPI) is a partnership of fishers and local authorities, set up in 2010 with the aim to promote the native oyster fishery. There is a small wild population of native oysters in Chichester Harbour and there has been an oyster fishery there for hundreds of years. Various research projects have been undertaken since the set up of CHOPI, including broodstock relaying, collection of length frequency and catch per unit effort data in partnership with local environmental health officers, pre-season catch per unit effort assessment, a valuation of the value of Chichester Harbour shellfisheries and promotion of better water quality. CHOPI has been part of the development of the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) Oyster Permit Byelaw (2015). The Byelaw has restrictions on size of dredges, amount of time fishing and a harvest control threshold. This means that when the fleet average catch per unit effort for the day falls below 15 kg per hour per 1m dredge width, the fishery closes.

We commissioned a local historian to look at the history of the oyster fishery in Chichester Harbour. Read the report here.
A few key points include:

  • There is evidence of oysters being cultivated in the Harbour during Roman times.
  • There has been oyster dredging in the Harbour since the 14th century.
  • During the 1600 and 1700s, Chichester Harbour had a significant oyster fishery, supporting local fishers, with oysters eaten locally and exported. There is some evidence that at this time the fishers were restocking, using spatting ponds and laying cultch.
  • From the start of the 1800s, larger vessels from Kent, Essex and elsewhere came into the Harbour and took large amounts of oyster, including breeding stock to be relaid on other beds. Land reclamation attempts also damaged the oyster beds.
  • In the mid-1800's, extensive offshore oyster beds were discovered and fished intensively until all the oysters had been harvested.
  • Several Orders (private oyster beds) were established in the 1870s within Chichester Harbour but by this time, the oyster stocks were very low. Poaching, lack of cultch, lack of funding and disputes between the members of the co-operatives did not help matters.
  • In the 1890s, sewage works contaminated the Harbour's shellfish and an outbreak of typhoid in 1902 was blamed on the oysters.
  • Oyster fishing improved in the 1910s and 1920s but the increase in the slipper limpet population led to another decline in oysters.
  • There was somewhat of a revival in the 1950's with relaying of oysters from France and other parts of the UK, as had been done periodically in the past. Some Pacific oysters were laid in the Harbour in the 1980s.
  • Oyster stocks have been low and declining since at least 2010. There has been a 95% decline in oyster populations across Europe.


See our other Chichester Harbour project work here

FISHING VESSEL EFFORT
Theme: Sustainable marine resource exploitation
Sub-theme: Fishing activity
 
Since 2001, Sussex IFCA (and its predecessor, the Sussex Sea Fisheries Committee) has collected data on observed fishing activity whilst on sea patrols. Over 20,000 vessels have been observed. This data can be used to create maps which show where there is varying levels of effort for different fishing methods. This can be useful for fisheries management, in particular, in Marine Protected Areas where we are required to assess how fishing activity may impact protected features. Fishing vessel activity can also be combined with environmental data to assess where there are areas in the District which might need prioritising for management. There's more information on that in this report.

More information about fishing effort 2015-2019
More information about fishing effort density 2007-2016 is available on our interactive map

ELASMOBRANCH EVIDENCE
Theme: Ecosystem interactions
Sub-theme: Endangered, threatened or protected species

Elasmobranchs are a group of animals which includes sharks, skates and rays. They have cartilaginous skeletons and give birth either to live young or they lay eggs cases, known as mermaids purses. They are slow to reach reproductive age and produce low numbers of offspring which means that they can be vulnerable to over fishing. We are conducting research to find out more about the species in Sussex coastal waters and how we can manage them sustainably.

CEFAS have been tagging starry smooth-hounds. Please let them know if you catch a tagged smooth-hound. Details in this poster.

More information about elasmobranchs is available from the Shark Trust

More information about an Interreg project that Kent and Essex IFCA have been involved in called SUMARiS which aims to put together the necessary knowledge and evidence in order to implement a species specific cross-border management strategy for the rays and skates fishery.

 

ANGLERS’ ACTIVITY – BLACK SEABREAM
Theme: Ecosystem interactions
Sub-theme: Marine Protected Areas
 
Spawning black seabream are a conservation feature of Kingmere Marine Conservation Zone. We want to further understand the recreational sea angling activity around black seabream, in particular in relation to the Marine Conservation Zone, to support our management measures. We are gathering catch data at sea and in port.
We have found that 76% of black seabream retained onboard angling vessels were recorded as males based on external features.
In 2017-19, there was an average of 4 people onboard each angling vessel with an average of 5 rods and 6-8 hooks per vessel.
In 2019, there was an average of 14 black seabream caught per vessel with 44% retained.

More information about Kingmere MCZ

MARINE PROTECTED AREA MANAGEMENT MONITORING
Theme: Ecosystem interactions
Sub-theme: Marine Protected Areas
 
In consultation with stakeholders, we have developed management measures for a range of Marine Protected Areas in our District, including Marine Conservation Zones and European Marine Sites. We use evidence based decision making to balance the protection of the marine environment and the use of it, supporting nature and livelihoods. For those sites with management in place, we are monitoring the activities in these areas and the protected features to make sure that our management is suitable.
Tranche 3 Marine Conservation Zones (Selsey Bill and the Hounds and Beachy Head East in our District) were designated in May 2019. We will be considering evidence and consulting with stakeholders over the next two years as we develop fisheries management for these sites.

 

INTERACTIVE HABITAT MAP
Theme: Ecosystem interactions
Sub-theme: Habitats
 
We are working with Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre and other project partners to create an online interactive map which showcases the fascinating diversity of habitats and species in the Sussex marine environment. The map has layers for fishing activity, Sussex IFCA byelaws, seabed habitats including video clips from our surveys, marine protected areas, bathymetry (depth) and wrecks.

More information on habitats
More information on species

 

SUSSEX COASTAL HABITATS INSHORE PILOT (SCHIP)
Theme: Ecosystem interactions
Sub-theme: Habitats

The Channel Coastal Observatory (CCO) were commissioned to interpret bathymetry, backscatter and groundtruthing data, with funding from the Environment Agency and the South Downs National Park Authority, for the seabed mapping part of the Sussex Coastal Habitats Inshore Pilot (SCHIP1) project. A series of detailed maps were produced, including surficial substrate, marine habitats and anthropogenic features, to inform conservation, planning policy and management objectives. Click here for the report on the habitat mapping in the 1km inshore strip along the Sussex coast.

All swath bathymetry data collected through the Southeast Regional Coastal Monitoring Programme are freely available, under Open Government Licence from www.channelcoast.org either as text, ascii or SD (Fledermaus) files. The EUNIS Level 3 marine habitat map and substrate type map are also available for viewing and download as shapefiles.

In 2019, the CCO were commissioned to extend the detailed habitat map out to 4km between Shoreham and Selsey, including Selsey Bill and the Hounds Marine Conservatin Zone. Click here to see the report.


For SCHIP2, the University of Brighton were commissioned to create a habitat map of the whole District. As acoustic data was not available at a suitable resolution for the entire area, the ground truth data points were used to create Voronoi polygons where the boundaries were drawn equidistant between data points. The full report is available here and this is the basis on the seabed habitat layer in our online interractive map.
 

LOBSTER SAMPLING
Theme: Sustainable marine resource exploitation
Sub-theme: Fisheries biology data
 
European lobsters are an important commercial species in Sussex. They are caught in lobster pots throughout the District but mainly in the west of the District and mainly in the summer months. Lobsters can live up to 20 years and can grow up to 60cm long and weigh as much as 6kg in exceptional circumstances. It can take seven years for them to reach reproductive age. Females can produce up to 30,000 eggs which she broods by holding the eggs against the underside of her abdomen. A female carrying eggs is known as a berried hen and they must be returned immediately to the sea.
Sussex IFCA officers measure lobsters caught by fishermen, either at sea or in port. This opportunistic sampling helps to support our Shellfish Permit Byelaw. We can see how many lobsters are caught per number of pots hauled and look at what section of the population is being caught by looking at their lengths. We are investigating fishers concerns about declines in lobster catches.
In addition, fishers who hold a Shellfish Permit are required to send us data on their catch. The 2019 report is available here.

MARINE ARCHAEOLOGY
Theme: Socio-economics
Sub-theme: Archaeology
 
The seas around the UK contain a wealth of archaeological sites. It is not uncommon for users of the marine environment to discover artefacts and it is responsible for Sussex IFCA to play a role by engaging in marine archaeology.

More information about Fishing Industry Protocol for Archaeological Discoveries (FIPAD)

In 2017, we conducted a project with Fjordr called Understanding Fishermen's Fasteners, funded by English Heritage. Fishermen’s fasteners are features that cause fishing gear to snag on the seabed. They may be natural features such as rock outcrops or items of recent material lost overboard. However, in many instances, fishermen’s fasteners have proved to be of considerable archaeological significance, including the remains of historic wrecks that have subsequently been designated and investigated. The project involved using a towed underwater camera to look at fasteners to find out more about them - whether they were natural features or whether they were worthy of further archaeological investigation. We went out on local fishers' vessels and their extensive knowledge of the marine environment was invaluable in investigating these sites.


 

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