Main research question
How do fish stocks evolve from year to year for a number of commercial fish species that are important for the Belgian fisheries? What is the biological, economic and technical state of the fisheries, aquaculture and fish processing sector? The aim is to make a good estimate of the fish populations (stocks), the dynamics of the marine ecosystem, the possible consequences of fisheries management on fish stocks per se and on the marine ecosystem, using up-to-date data collection. This project fits in completely with the European fisheries policy. Scientific information is indispensable to underpin the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Europe regulates fisheries research with detailed guidelines (DCF EC 2017/1004) what information the member states must collect.
Through a combined sample of fishing at specific sea locations with a research vessel, on the one hand, and detailed observations on commercial vessels on the other, we collect quantitative and qualitative data that map the biological status and evolution. We add economic and technical data for fisheries to that. We make descriptive studies of Belgian aquaculture and the fish processing sector. The data is collected in both a fishery-dependent and a fishery-independent manner. One of the pillars of biological research is age determination, which is done in an ISO 170025 accredited laboratory. Every year we transfer the collected and processed data to the Agriculture and Fisheries Cabinet and to the fisheries sector itself. In the context of the emerging new Fisheries Policy and the ecosystem approach, we present the research that enables the transition from a "single-species approach" to a "multi-species approach".
The advice to the CFP is done for all Member States and fisheries through different bodies, the two main ones being ICES (biological advice) and STECF (advisory body to the European Commission on fisheries). The experts from ILVO Fisheries Biology produce such ICES reports based on their collected and processed data. For example, they offer support to the management of the Belgian fisheries sector. The scientists involved act as experts in STECF. A remarkable evolution, and a spin-off from the data collection, is that well-functioning partnerships have emerged between the fishing industry and science. As a result, mutual involvement with regard to the problem of the fishing sector has grown.