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Irish & Spanish Scientists Collaborate on Digging Habits of The Dublin Bay Prawn

29th July 2020
A Dublin Bay Prawn emerges from its seabed burrow A Dublin Bay Prawn emerges from its seabed burrow

The Marine Institute is collaborating with scientists in Spain as part of a new project, Smart Lobster, to monitor the digging activity and maintenance of burrows of the Nephrops norvegicus, commonly known as the Dublin Bay Prawn, using the EMSO SmartBay Observatory located in Galway Bay.

Current methods for counting populations cannot account for variability in the animals emerging from their burrows. This study will solve that problem by helping to understand the magnitude of that variability and lead to more accurate assessment of population numbers to ensure a sustainable fishery into the future.

International collaboration is key to advancing ocean science research, and is the focus of this week’s Oceans of Learning series – ‘One Shared Ocean, One Shared Future’. Over the past 10 weeks, the Marine Institute and partners have been celebrating our ocean by sharing news, online activities and downloadable resources on a new marine topic each week.

Smart Lobster is monitoring the burrow emergence behaviour of Nephrops norvegicus by using the underwater camera on the EMSO SmartBay Observatory. The Observatory is located on the seabed (20m to 25m depth) off the coast of Spiddal in Galway Bay and this area is one of the North East Atlantic fishery grounds for this species. The project will also involve the use of a new autonomous imaging device, which has been designed for long-term deployment.

The project’s Chief Scientist, Dr Jacopo Aguzzi from the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC) in Spain is working with Marine Institute scientists Jennifer Doyle and Dr Colm Lordan to provide specialist fishery management and policy knowledge. The scientists will evaluate and analyse the video footage provided by the camera to assess the digging activity and maintenance of burrows by Nephrops. Scientists will also analyse the role of ecological and environmental factors that modulate burrow emergence, such as the presence of prey or predators.

The results of the Smart Lobster project will have implications for stock assessment of this species, allowing standardisation of demographic data obtained with trawl nets (fishery-dependent sampling) and towed sledges (fishery-independent sampling) upon animals’ burrow emergence variability.

Dr Paul Connolly, CEO of the Marine Institute said, “Off the coast of Ireland, the behaviour of Nephrops are being tracked using video-cabled observatory technology for the first-time. Nephrops are one of the most important commercial fishery resources in Europe, and the knowledge from the Smart Lobster project will assist in the sustainable management of this species. It is vital that countries come together to work on international projects like these, so we can share data, expertise and infrastructure, and deepen our knowledge on our marine resources.”

The Marine Institute is also coordinating the operational aspects of the project. A steel frame was constructed to assist with monitoring the activity of the Nephrops norvegicus and was deployed by a team of divers. The camera and the imaging device will record the activity of up to 15 Nephrops norvegicus within the frame over the next 12 months.

Commenting on the EMSO SmartBay Observatory, Dr Aguzzi said, “Coastal cabled observatories of this kind represent an excellent opportunity to provide pilot studies to technologically advance more classic stock assessment approaches, providing new ecological data in multidisciplinary and highly-integrated fashion.”

Alan Berry, Marine Institute’s Research Infrastructure Manager said, “By supporting and promoting national research infrastructure such as the EMSO SmartBay Observatory in Galway Bay, the Marine Institute facilitates world class scientific research and supports new knowledge for improving marine ecosystem management.”

The Smart Lobster project is one of three transnational access projects funded by the EMSO-Link project.

Published in Aquaculture
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Irish Aquaculture - Information

Aquaculture is the farming of animals in the water and has been practised for centuries, with the monks farming fish in the middle ages. More recently the technology has progressed and the aquaculture sector is now producing in the region of 50 thousand tonnes annually and provides a valuable food product as well as much needed employment in many rural areas of Ireland.

A typical fish farm involves keeping fish in pens in the water column, caring for them and supplying them with food so they grow to market size. Or for shellfish, containing them in a specialised unit and allowing them to feed on natural plants and materials in the water column until they reach harvestable size. While farming fish has a lower carbon and water footprint to those of land animals, and a very efficient food fed to weight gain ratio compared to beef, pork or chicken, farming does require protein food sources and produces organic waste which is released into the surrounding waters. Finding sustainable food sources, and reducing the environmental impacts are key challenges facing the sector as it continues to grow.

Salmon is the most popular fish bought by Irish families. In Ireland, most of our salmon is farmed, and along with mussels and oysters, are the main farmed species in the country.

Aquaculture in Ireland

  • Fish and shellfish are farmed in 14 Irish coastal counties.
  • Irish SMEs and families grow salmon, oysters, mussels and other seafood
  • The sector is worth €150m at the farm gate – 80% in export earnings.
  • The industry sustains 1,833 direct jobs in remote rural areas – 80% in the west of Ireland
  • Every full-time job in aquaculture creates 2.27 other jobs locally (Teagasc 2015)
  • Ireland’s marine farms occupy 0.0004% of Ireland’s 17,500Km2 inshore area.
  • 83% of people in coastal areas support the development of fish farming
  • Aquaculture is a strong, sustainable and popular strategic asset for development and job creation (Foodwise 2025, National Strategic Plan, Seafood
  • Operational Programme 2020, FAO, European Commission, European Investment Bank, Harvesting Our Ocean Wealth, Silicon Republic, CEDRA)
    Ireland has led the world in organically certified farmed fish for over 30 years
  • Fish farm workers include people who have spent over two decades in the business to school-leavers intent on becoming third-generation farmers on their family sites.

At A Glance - Irish Aquaculture

  • Fish and shellfish are farmed in 14 Irish coastal counties
  • Salmon is the most popular fish bought by Irish families. 
  • In Ireland, most of our salmon is farmed, and along with mussels and oysters, are the main farmed species in the country.
  • The industry sustains 1,833 direct jobs in remote rural areas – 80% in the west of Ireland
  • Every full-time job in aquaculture creates 2.27 other jobs locally (Teagasc 2015)
  • Ireland’s marine farms occupy 0.0004% of Ireland’s 17,500Km2 inshore area.
  • 83% of people in coastal areas support the development of fish farming

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