A PROJECT has been launched to promote sustainability in shark fisheries off the Cumbrian and Lancashire coasts.

The Shark Trust, with funding from the Co-operative, has launched a range of guides and leaflets to help commercial fishermen identify breeds of sharks, rays and skates, to help with the collection of data and to reduce overfishing in northern waters.

“It’s about time we got our resources into the north of England,” explained John Richardson, conservation officer for the trust.

“If we can help fishermen identify sharks and rays better then we’ll have a much better idea of what’s happening in those waters which will mean more effective management of fish stocks.”

The trust’s guides and leaflets have been put together with the help of members of the fishing industry operating out of ports in the counties.

It is hoped it will enable them to identify the fish they bring in, which will provide data for the trust while ensuring workers are ‘not unknowingly caught out’ when it comes to the strict laws surrounding the recording of catches.

“We don’t envisage it affecting fishermen’s work,” continued Mr Richardson.

“Fishermen already record their catch by species; however certain species can sometimes be difficult to accurately identify, especially when working at sea – for example catsharks, houndsharks and some rays.

“Shark Trust ID guides offer rapid, accurate advice on identifying all shark, skate and ray species caught by Northern English vessels.”

The project comes as research reveals that if elasmobranchs are overfished in an area, prey populations can ‘explode in size’ with a significant, often irreversible ‘snow-ball’ effect throughout the wider marine ecosystem.

Although elasmobranches are often taken largely as ‘bycatch’, they still represent a valuable component within mixed fisheries.

“Sustainability is already an important concept to the fishing industry in Northern England,” added Mr Richardson.

”Our objective is to support the drive towards greater sustainability, through supplying information and resources, as well as advice where requested.”

The project is also being carried out in Yorkshire and Humberside.

For more information visit www.sharktrust.org/northernengland