The crew of the Kobe and Brothers out of Clark’s Harbour load lobster fishing gear aboard the vessel for the spring fishery in LFA 34. Kathy Johnson photo

While the lobster fishery remains sustainable and in good shape in this region of the North Atlantic, the same unfortunately cannot be said for other commercial shellfish areas, notably across The Pond in the United Kingdom.

As that country’s fishery struggles to come to terms with the new realities brought on by Brexit, those challenges are being compounded with constantly falling crab and lobster catches — an issue fishermen are all too familiar with in this part of the world.

But a new report is suggesting a rather unique solution to the problem of decreased catches — use fewer traps or pots as the U.K harvesters call them.

A study by the University of Plymouth has found that managing the density of crab and lobster traps at an optimum level increases the quality of catch, benefits the marine environment and makes the industry more sustainable in the long term.

Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the findings are the result of an extensive and unprecedented four-year field study conducted in partnership with local fishermen off the coast of southern England.

Over a sustained period, researchers exposed sections of the seabed to differing densities of trap fishing and monitored any impacts using a combination of underwater videos and catch analysis.

The results were somewhat surprising.

They found that in areas of higher trap density, fishermen caught 19 per cent less brown crab and 35 per cent less European lobster. As well, their catches of brown crab were on average 35 grams per individual (seven per cent) lighter.

The effect on corals and other sensitive marine species was also significant, with several ecologically important reef species found to be less abundant respectively where trap density was higher.

Researchers say the study provides evidence of a pot fishing intensity threshold and highlights that commercial pot fisheries are likely to be compatible with marine conservation when managed correctly at low, sustainable levels.

The authors of the report stated that the effects of bottom-towed fishing have been known for some time. But before the start of this new research, very little was known about the precise impacts of trap fishing over a prolonged period.

While the distance between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and Lyme Bay in the U.K., where this research took place, might be 4,680 kilometres, this is the type of viable research that could be applied here in our efforts to maintain the sustainability of the southwest N.S. lobster fishery.

“The fishing industry is currently facing huge uncertainty. And we of course know that every fishing community is different. But with the drive to further enhance marine protection around the U.K., some of the lessons we have learned could help other fleets make changes that can secure their long-term future,” the researchers stated.