Cross-Border Scientific Research Looks at Straddling NE Atlantic Stocks

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pp 38-39With the Faroe Marine Research Institute involved in numerous scientific research projects, pelagic fish stocks considered a shared resource of several countries feed extensively north of the Faroe Islands.

Pelagic fish stocks often migrate over very large distances. Spawning may occur in one area of sea, nursery area of pre-mature fish could be in another location and the feeding by the adult fish may take place in a third area. Thus, pelagic fish show repeating migratory patterns between spawning and feeding grounds while crossing several countries’ exclusive economic zones. Eventually, such fish stocks become identified as common resources — that is, shared fisheries managed by several coastal states under a joint arrangement.

In the Northeast Atlantic, including Faroese waters, three large pelagic fish stocks show such migratory behavior: Atlanto-Scandian herring, Atlantic mackerel and blue whiting. Herring spawn off the western Norwegian coast, their nursery area is in the Barents Sea and the feeding area of the adult fish is in the Norwegian Sea. Blue whiting make use of a spawning area west of the British Isles, with nursery ground mainly in the southern Norwegian Sea and feeding taking place in larger areas in the Norwegian Sea. Mackerel also have their main spawning area west of the British Isles, nursery areas on the European shelves and feeding areas in the Norwegian Sea and westwards. In recent years their feeding ground has expanded substantially westwards, into Icelandic waters and the Irminger Sea.

Thus, although these three straddling pelagic fish stocks may spawn in different areas, their feeding during summer is largely in the same areas, mainly in the Norwegian Sea. Although the entire feeding grounds cover large areas, the Faroese area is quite centrally located as feeding ground during summer for all of the three fish species.

The total biomass of these three stocks is estimated at more than 13 million tonnes of adult fish, plus the young premature individuals — huge amounts of fish considered a common resource of the coastal states: the Faroe Islands, the European Union, Norway, Iceland, and Russia.

For the Faroese economy, the fisheries associated with these stocks are of fundamental importance.

Intensive feeding

To support sustainable exploitation and agreement between the coastal states on how to share and manage these fisheries, extensive research is conducted by marine scientists in all of the coastal states.

The Faroe Marine Research Institute conducts research along two lines in this respect. On the one hand extensive research is carried out in collaboration with scientists from the other coastal states. A substantial effort is needed to cover such large geographical areas and therefore research vessels from several countries carry out coordinated collaborative research cruises at the same time, in order to collect comparative information from large geographical areas. Several such coordinated cruises are conducted every year, covering areas from west of the British Isles and the Norwegian coast in the west, Faroese and international waters in the center to Icelandic waters and, in recent years regarding mackerel research, even into Greenlandic waters off southeast Greenland. Such cruises cover ecosystem research, from studies of water masses and temperature, planktonic organisms to abundance, sizes and age classes of fish and also stomach content of the fish. The results from these cruises are transferred into one common database, which is hosted by the Faroe Marine Research Institute. The obtained data are used for stock estimates and advice to the coastal states on sustainable management of the fish stocks.

Second, in addition to the annually conducted collaborative studies described above, the Faroe Marine Research Institute is also engaged in extensive scientific research on specific topics.

The region to the north of the Faroe Islands is rich in plankton and these small organisms, which constitute food for the pelagic fish, are the actual reason for their annually repeating feeding migration into the area during spring and summer.

For instance, studies at the Faroe Marine Research Institute in 2012 and 2013 revealed that the individual mackerel, during the time period from the point of entering Faroese waters in spring to the point of leaving in autumn, on average increased their weight by more than 60 percent. The weight increase was noted across all feeding areas and is the result of intensive feeding activity during the summer season.

Partly on a national basis and partly in the context of international collaboration, research carried out by the Faroe Marine Research Institute includes large- and small-scale oceanography, ecosystem studies and studies of plankton and fish.

Dr. Eilif Gaard is the Director General of the Faroe Marine Research Institute.