APEM delivered a review of the basis and effectiveness of the Biologically Sensitive Area (BSA) off the south and west coast of Ireland. This report was commissioned in preparation for the 2022 Common Fisheries Policy functionality review by the European Council and Parliament.

The Biologically Sensitive Areas (BSA) is an area off the south west of Ireland that was established by the EU. As part of a larger effort limitation regulation for fishing vessels targeting demersal scallop and crab fisheries, it also set a specific fishing effort regime within the area. The EU Regulation sets the maximum annual fishing effort across a variety of fishing grounds for each Member State such as Ireland.

Aims

The aim of the review was to conduct a desk-based study to set out the biological basis for the BSA. It would look at the effectiveness of the effort limitations within the BSA for protecting the ecosystem in the area and update on any changes to biological processes. We were also tasked with identifying gaps in current knowledge and management approaches and proposing mitigation options to address any gaps that were discovered. 

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The outcome

We produced a detailed report with our findings on the purpose of the BSA and effectiveness of the associated fisheries management, in particular fishing effort management. This included an extensive series of maps, graphs and tables presenting a diverse range of information that would be instrumental in helping the Marine Institute to understand the site better. 

Some of the information the report presented included trends in sustainability of captured species within the area. Apparent trends in length frequency distributions within Irish commercial catches of important species and protected, endangered and threatened (PET) elasmobranchs were also examined. This information enables the client to consider the need for management measures to follow in the long term for protecting and restoring sensitive and protected species. 

The top species landed from fishing activities within the BSA were listed, comparing landings over the last 20 years. A summary of published knowledge for several commercially important fish and elasmobranchs species with spawning and nursery areas in the BSA was also provided. This summary helps the client know what species are targeted in the BSA and adapt fishing approaches and management accordingly. 

Overall, our fisheries team were able to highlight the importance of the area for several commercial species which utilise the area for spawning and/or nursery habitat and the presence of several sensitive elasmobranch species. Positively, there are a greater number of commercial stocks within the area which are now sustainably exploited compared to when the BSA was introduced. This increase, including hake, anglerfish, haddock, sole, and megrim, is thanks to a combination of fisheries management measures working in cumulation within the area. Improving the health of this stock was one of the main reasons for creating the BSA. 

The effort management within the BSA was found to be in need of review to ensure enhanced protection is afforded to this sensitive area. The finding can be presented to the upcoming EU Common Fisheries Policy review to ensure that the BSA can continue to be a productive area for economic interests as well as protecting the environment. 

We did identify some data gaps. To address this, several potential options were suggested by our team to fill these gaps. We also provided recommended next steps to guide the future of the BSA, with a particular emphasis on setting clear goals and objectives. This investigation has provided the Marine Institute with a sound foundation upon which they can develop an informed long-term plan for managing the BSA.

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