Skip to main content

Ecosystem data collection on Irish fisheries surveys in support of MSFD, Natura and Habitat mapping Phase 2

Project Outputs

As part of the data collection framework, the Marine Institute conducts ten annual fisheries research surveys at sea to provide fisheries independent data for stock assessment. These surveys can be used as platforms of opportunities for the collection of additional ecosystem data to support the reporting requirements for environmental legislation including MSFD, Natura and MSP. This study continues from the 2017-2018 project and explores the application of ecosystem data  collection on fisheries surveys in three thematic areas:

  1. Collection of marine mammal and seabird observational data on acoustic and mackerel egg surveys to support MSFD;  Article 17 reporting for Habitats directive and reporting under the Birds directive;
  2. Collection of sediment samples on fisheries surveys and subsequent particle size analysis to support the improvement of sediment classification maps of the Irish Shelf;
  3. Analysis of benthic macroinvertebrate bycatch data collected on the Irish groundfish survey to develop indicators and monitoring programmes for MSFD benthic habitats under descriptor 1 (Biodiversity) and descriptor 6 (Seafloor integrity).

The Marine Institute fisheries survey programme includes acoustics for Northeast Atlantic blue whiting and boarfish stocks and Northwest and Celtic Sea Herring stocks. Every three years, FEAS also participates in the internationally coordinated mackerel and horse mackerel egg survey. Acoustic and egg and larval surveys are particularly suitable for marine mammal observations. Data collection protocols for marine mammal observations have been reviewed and optimized to feed into biodiversity reporting. Data collection will supplement requirements for Article 17 reporting under the habitats directive, as well as provide data for MSFD and the National Biodiversity Data Centre. The project continues from the 2017-2018 project due to satisfactory output in the initial two years. Project partnership includes the MI (FEAS) and NPWS. The project design is based on a letter by enduser NPWS. In addition to marine mammal observations, the feasibility to carry out seabird observations on the same surveys will be tested to contribute to national and international reporting obligations.

Fisheries surveys can be used as platforms of opportunities for the collection of benthic and sediment samples in support of other national initiatives such as INFOMAR, the national seabed mapping program. There is an ongoing requirement for substrate maps that accurately depict the sediment properties of the seabed to benefit fisheries resource management, reporting under environmental legislations such as MSFD, conservation, marine spatial planning, industry and research. Substrate/sediment maps are routinely created by the INFOMAR program and are based on two primary datasets: acoustic data (primarily bathymetry and backscatter derived from multibeam echosounders) and groundtruthing data, such as sediment sample and video transects. With INFOMAR phase 2 (2016-2026) primarily focused on achieving 100% seabed coverage on all remaining coastal and offshore areas, including the Celtic Sea and West coast of Ireland, there is an opportunity to review the existing seabed sampling strategy in support of the creation of high resolution substrate/sediment maps for the entire Irish shelf. To date, the production of high resolution substrate maps has been challenging for a number of reasons, including the sparse availability of sediment samples, which are critical to verify substrate interpretations and to provide greater confidence in the substrate maps. Based on satisfactory results achieved in 2018, the project will continue in 2019 and 2020. Most of the sediment samples collection will be achieved opportunistically during fisheries surveys when the vessel is not engaged in core survey targets, and hence acquisition costs will be minimal. Database and GIS management will be managed by INFOMAR with envisaged contractual support.

Another key deliverable under the MSFD is information in support of Seafloor Integrity (D6) and Biodiversity (D1). To this end, a pilot study was carried out in 2018, to evaluate the utility of the macro-invertebrate by-catch data from Irish groundfish surveys to support those objectives. This review will feed into discussion at ICES around the quality and consistency of this  bycatch data across national surveys so it can be stored centrally in the ICES international data base for trawl survey data (DATRAS) at an appropriate level of aggregation as per 3rd party requests such as OSPAR. This preliminary study proved useful and needs to now be concluded over a 3 month period to produce a structured quantitative research report summarising the current data set available for these descriptors and a proposal for long term monitoring program

The project is carried out in close collaboration with the Marine Institute (Fisheries Ecosystem Advisory Services and Advanced Mapping Services), National Parks and Wildlife Services, and its parent department, Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.


The project has a 2 year duration and runs between 2019 and 2020. 

Project Outputs:
  1. Survey reports and distributional data on marine mammals in accordance with end-user reporting requirements.
  2. Data obtained from the collection of sediment samples and relative Particle Size Analysis. These data will be integrated and will enhance current sediment properties databases and related GIS-web GIS services. By-product will be the improved and more accurate sediment classification maps of the Irish Shelf.
  3. Quantify and report on the prevalence of species encountered on IGFS re. the VME data call species and the obligation in Annex 1D of Implementing Decision 2016 1251 of the DCMAP.
  4. Summarize and report on the overall macro-invertebrate bycatch data from the IGFS in the context of potential inputs to the relevant MSFD indicators.  
Expected Benefit:
  1. Data collection on four acoustic fisheries surveys on the distribution of marine mammals to supplement requirements for Article 17 reporting under the habitats directive, and the distribution of the birds directive.
  2. Data provision of the same to MSFD and the National Biodiversity Data Centre.
  3. Collection of benthic and sediment samples in support of other national initiatives such as INFOMAR, the national seabed mapping program.
  4. Recommendations on the data collection of ecosystem data on Fisheries surveys.
  5. Meet our obligations under MSFD/DCMAP.
Further Information:
Contact Maurice Clarke at
Project Cost - Projected:
Project Status: