By Jason Holland, SeafoodSource contributing editor reporting from London
Published on 21 April, 2013
This month, a group of U.K. crab fishermen took part in an exchange visit to Steigen, Norway, to find out how cod fishermen there have built a sustainable fishery and to ascertain if any of the measures introduced would translate to their own sector.
The crabbers, who were all from the southwest county of Devon, were shown how Steigen’s fishermen have been working with scientists to manage their stocks for the long term. As well as learning how the Norwegians go about ensuring sustainability, they saw ways in which the country’s whitefish industry adds value to its catch through meticulously grading according to fish weight, freshness and condition.
This attention to quality means the fishermen and processors can retain value at the beginning of the supply chain.
The expedition was part of a GAP2 project, which is funded by the European Commission’s FP7 Capacities program. In a nutshell, GAP2 aims to bring scientists, fishermen and policymakers closer together and part of that strategy comes through funding exchange trips between research and management organizations.
Last year, a group of Norwegian fishermen traveled to the Devon to explore fisheries management measures in place in the region as they look at ways in which they can develop Norway’s crab fishery. This time around, as well as fishing with their Norwegian hosts, the U.K. fishermen also visited a salmon farm and a fish processing plant.
GAP2 hopes the outcome will be that the crab fishers “produce a methodology” that enables them to evaluate the sustainability of the stock they exploit. In addition, the fishermen want to discover ways in which they can optimize the value of their catch without increasing the size of their landings.
Currently, the United Kingdom’s total crab landings stand at around 28,500 metric tons (MT) with a first sale value of less than GBP 38 million (EUR 44.3 million, USD 57.9 million) and the general consensus in the industry is it should be worth a lot more.
“I think the Norwegian approach, to try and add value to the product, is the best route forward,” said Alan Steer, a third-generation crab fisherman. “If we can increase the value of what we sell and cap our effort so we’re not catching any more crab, it makes it much more feasible to move forward with sustainability measures.”
As well as through the handling of the product, Steer believes value can be added by increasing the knowledge and understanding of Devon crab in the U.K. market, and he cited the much greater awareness that Norwegians have about their domestic fisheries products.
“Everyone (in Norway) eats fish, everyone knows how to handle it and they are willing to pay [well] for the cod that they produce. I think that’s something we need to look at — educating the public to let them know what we do and what our product is. Hopefully then we will increase the profitability of the product,” he said.
Steer is currently working with scientists to better understand crab migration patterns, and while he acknowledged that such cooperations have proved “challenging and frustrating” for many fishermen in the past, he believes they are crucial in making sure catching sectors are on the right track.
“The biggest challenges that I see in our future are proving the sustainability of our fishery and also increasing the value of the product. I want a future for my children and other generations. What we are doing in the shellfish sector is very sustainable and hopefully through working with the scientists we can prove what we have said for many years. This is our challenge — to try and prove our statistics and our figures for the future.”
Professor Paul Hart, a fisheries scientist for 40 years and part of the GAP2 program, believes one of the biggest gains that the Devon fishermen took out of the trip was a broader perspective of the problems relating to fisheries in general.
“In their everyday lives, they are very focused on one species taken from one small area. The Norwegian experience broadened their perspective and will make it easier for them to appreciate the issues and to realize that the problems are global.
“It gives them ideas as to how they might change their own fishery. Although there are big differences between the cod fishery and the crab fishery, there are still a lot of things that go on [in Norway] that they might think about in the future. They can see that through the cod fishery, good management gets results,” said Hart.