Scientific Roundtable – “The Role of Science in Fisheries Management”


On 25 January, Blue Fish Europe organised a scientific roundtable with 7 scientists from all over Europe, specialised in fisheries research. The objective of this roundtable was to bring scientists together to exchange on their research projects, and find commonalities and areas to work together. In particular, Blue Fish wanted to provide a platform to discuss why and how scientists can work hand in hand with fishing professionals when it comes to fisheries management and achieving sustainable fisheries across Europe.

Each scientist presented a research project they conducted together with fishermen, and then answered questions from fellow scientists. The presentations are available below.

  • Luis Arregi(AZTI, Spain) – Discard reduction experiments on the Basque trawler fleet
  • Patrick Cousin(Blue Fish, France) – Fishermen and Scientists on the same vessel
  • Marianna Giannoulaki(HCMR, Greece) – Can scientists help fishermen to reduce discards? The spatial dimension of discards reduction
  • Bruno Iñarra(AZTI, Spain) – What to do with Unavoidable Unwanted Catches once landed?
  • Emilio Notti(ISMAR, Italy) – Fishing technology research in the Mediterranean: some experiences and lessons learned
  • Hans Polet(ILVO, Belgium) – The Flemish Sustainable Fishing Alliance: an example of collaboration between scientists and fishermen
  • Karin van der Reijden(IMARES, Netherlands) – Cooperative research in the Netherlands for sustainable fishing

Below are the main conclusions of this meeting.


All scientists agreed on one point: trust between scientists and fishermen is essential for the cooperation to be fruitful but can prove difficult to foster.

  • Hans Polet (BE) presented an example of a fruitful cooperation between four actors of the fishing sector in Flanders to achieve sustainable fisheries: the Flanders Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, ILVO (the Research Institute), the Rederscentrale (the fishermen’s organisation) and Natuurpunt (a leading environmental NGO in Belgium) signed a covenant in 2011. A first of his kind, this covenant launched the “Vitraject” project, which was developed by Natuurpunt, and agreed upon by the other three stakeholders. The four partners committed to implementing this roadmap, covering all three pillars of the sustainable development, by achieving three goals: transitioning to a sustainable fishery; recognising the efforts of the industry; and communicating the sustainability. Hans explained that building trust and a clear will to cooperate between all actors took time. Indeed, to achieve such a partnership, mindsets had to change and evolve from strongly-held, sometimes hostile, positions.
  • Emilio Notti (IT) explained that even though fishermen were aware of the presence and proximity of his research institute, it took time for Italian fishermen to acknowledge the added-value of scientific input. Emilio presented a specific project in the area of energy efficiency, demonstrating the various steps that were necessary before acquiring the full buy-in of fishermen. However, fishermen from the area came to the realization that “great results are possible only by matching the perspectives of fishermen and scientists“, who have different roles and responsibilities, and that scientists and fishermen “have to trust each other, and make the other partner able to express his knowledge and expertise” to achieve a shared objective: sustainable and efficient fisheries.
  • Karin van der Reijden (NL) presented the work her institute conducted as part of several projects aiming to improve the knowledge on data-limited stocks (such as place, sole or turbot), by investing in increased cooperation between science, fisheries and policy. During this project, fishermen took scientists on board of their boats to conduct surveys on these stocks. In addition to increasing the trust between scientists and fishing professionals, the project led both parties to access a more accurate picture of the state of the stocks of the target species in the North Sea. Fishermen could then adapt their fishing techniques and patterns, to achieve sustainable fishing practices.

During the exchange of views, scientists discussed a possible “fishing data paranoia” on the fishermen’s side. Indeed, because of bad experiences, some fishermen have become suspicious and are reluctant to take scientists on board of their vessels. This has increased with the implementation of the discard ban, where scientists can be caught in a crossfire between fishermen and controllers who are asking data on landed fish to both fishermen and scientists, sometimes searching for discrepancies between the fishermen’s logbooks and the scientist’s data.

All scientists acknowledged the question of trust as one of the major concerns for their everyday work, and one that was crucial to tackle. Overall, all participants have experienced that working alongside fishermen and demonstrating that they are partners of fishing professionals and not enemies does improve this trust and leads to increased cooperation over time.


The landing obligation was described as an example of top-down European policy, adopted without much concertation of the people who would have to implement it.

The implementation of this new regulation has different consequences for scientists:

  • Their experiments and contributions to discard reduction are becoming ever more important and interesting for fishermen across Europe, who must reduce by-catches as much as possible.
    • Marianna Giannoulaki (GR) presented a European-funded research project focusing on mapping areas in the Greek Mediterranean of high density patches of potential unwanted catch, building on fishermen and scientific knowledge. The project will lead to the development of a tool to help fishermen select better fishing grounds and reduce discards.
    • Patrick Cousin (FR) and Luis Arregi (ES) both presented examples of collaboration between fishermen and scientists to test fishing gears in the Celtic Sea and Bay of Biscay respectively, and ultimately reduce by-catches and discards. These experiments ultimately end up increasing the value of the fish caught, as they are bigger and of better quality.
  • Their work on how to best use discards and reduce food waste has also gained much attention.
    • Bruno Iñarra (ES) presented a project on how to best use ‘unavoidable unwanted catches once landed, as part of the larger European research project DiscardLess. He presented alternative uses of discards while ensuring compliance with the legal framework and not incentivising over-fishing. For example, by-catches can be transformed into fish products (such as products for kids or seniors), high-added value compounds extracted from the frames and bones (collagen for cosmetic uses for example) or animal feed ingredients. He noted that one challenge in this field was the uncertainty of the regulatory framework, but also the risk to overflow the market with fish products, which would depreciate their value.

All scientists concluded by saying that one of their goals was to help fishermen adapt to the landing obligation, and that collaboration was key to achieving this.


All participants welcomed the opportunity to exchange knowledge with peers from different countries, and expressed their wish to continue collaboration with Blue Fish in this context. They also called for more and deeper partnerships between fishing professionals and scientists who should work hand in hand to tackle the challenges of sustainable fisheries.