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Industry data central to new scientific paper on herring

10 January 2022

Industry data central to new scientific paper on herring


The European pelagic fishing industry is committed to improving scientific understanding of pelagic fish. The PFA takes a leading role in harnessing data and knowledge for science, because this is essential to maintaining sustainable fisheries for pelagic fish stocks.


In December 2021, the ICES Journal of Marine Science published a scientific paper about variability in the fat content of Atlantic herring as revealed by routine industry monitoring. The paper is the first result of a PhD studentship co-funded by the University of Aberdeen, the PFA and the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association (SPFA). This PhD studentship aims to explore the biological and ecological applicability of industry-collected data on herring and mackerel.


The PFA’s Chief Science Officer Martin Pastoors and his counterpart at the SPFA (Steve Mackinson) played an important role in the realization of the scientific research by making the industry-collected data available for analysis. The muscle fat data of herring was collected by Scottish and Dutch pelagic trawlers during the herring and mackerel fisheries between 2005 and 2020.


The study

Fat content in fish provides an indication of the condition of individual fish and, in many fish species, forms the basis of the annual reproductive cycle. Fat content is not routinely measured in scientific surveys but it is routinely measured in commercial pelagic fisheries.


For this study, fat measurements of herring by the Scottish and Dutch fishing industries were used to compare patterns in fat content throughout the year. The fat content of herring increased from 4.5% in May to 16.1% in June and then decreased again to 9% in September. The fat content in some years deviated from the average pattern. Research into possible explanations for these deviations is still ongoing. The study validates the scientific use of routinely collected fat content data from pelagic fish processors.


Martin Pastoors emphasized once again the importance of collaboration between science and the pelagic fishing industry:


“This study shows that the fishing industry can contribute unique types of data to scientific research, which can improve our understanding of fish stocks. It is exciting to see how data that has been collected by so many different processors, when brought together, suddenly forms a powerful source of information. This also shows that there are great benefits in cooperating between different processors: the sum of the collective is clearly larger than the sum of the different parts.”


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PFA represents the interests of nine European freezer-trawler companies involved in pelagic fishing activities for human consumption.

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