Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 5

Submission from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)


  1.  The scope of marine science provided by Cefas for Government customers is briefly outlined in this document. Cefas is an Executive Agency of Defra and we provide research, monitoring and advisory services on marine environment protection and the use of marine resources to support a number of Government Departments.

  2.  Funding at Cefas is largely directed at science in UK coastal waters and is typically supported by Defra and other Government funders on a programme by programme basis. This funding model is changing following a 10-year agreement with Defra to ensure a sustainable future for Cefas. We are also able to access overseas income competitively (including from the EU) to match and extend Defra funding for work in the global oceans and seas.

  3.  Our view is that the UK in general and Cefas in particular plays a major role in shaping the international agenda for marine science and provides a significant contribution to understanding the impact of human activity on marine ecosystems.

  4.  In a global competitive market for skills of marine scientists, Cefas is able to attract excellent scientists from an increasingly diverse community, but our ability to retain them depends on our future ability to provide a suitably challenging and rewarding environment for marine science to thrive.


  5.  The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science is an Executive Agency of Defra. Our role is to provide Defra and other Government Departments with advisory, research and monitoring services in the aquatic environment. We have around 530 staff based in laboratories in Lowestoft, Burnham on Crouch and Weymouth. Our origin was the MAFF Directorate of Fisheries Research and as such we have more than 100 years of history in marine research. Our focus is on fish stocks management, the impacts of human activity on the physical, chemical & ecological environment and protection of fish health. Around 75% of our funding is from Defra, but in our Agency status we are actively engaged in providing services to a wider market and we work with the DTI, the Food Standards Agency, the EU and a large number of other customers in the UK- and foreign-public and private sectors.

  6.  This submission should be read in conjunction with the Defra memorandum to this Committee that lists the policy drivers for undertaking science in the marine environment and their role in meeting this need. Cefas delivers the majority of the science evidence base in support of Defra requirements and for the sake of brevity we have not repeated the same information here. We would highlight our unique contribution to their programmes of marine environmental protection, marine biodiversity, water quality, fisheries management and flood and coastal management, all of which are seen as key elements in sustainable use of the seas.

  7.  We partner more than 100 different academic and research institutes both in the UK and around the world to deliver our mission. We also publish around 150 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals each year based on our research programmes. In this regard we have a broad perspective on the state of marine research both in UK waters and the major oceans of the world including the Polar Regions.

  8.  We use our research vessel, the Cefas Endeavour, to monitor the state of the seas and provide information on the impact of a broad range of human activities from energy exploitation, diffuse chemical and nutrient inputs, dredged material disposal to fisheries and the impact of fishing. We have developed novel technologies to measure oceanographic parameters remotely from fixed moored buoys and seabed landers where these are not available in the wider market. Our current research programmes are directed to understanding how human activities act in combination on ecosystem function and the limits on use of goods and services from the sea. The scope of this work is mainly focused on the shelf seas around the UK, but our contribution to work in the polar seas is listed later under the climate change section.

  9. More information on our activities may found on the Cefas web site[3], which contains amongst other material our Annual Report and Accounts and a full list of Cefas publications.


  10.  Recognising the strategic partnership between Defra and Cefas and the ongoing requirement for science services, Ministers have recently supported a 10-year funding agreement to ensure the sustainability of Cefas science. The contract will allow for the development of new laboratory facilities and merging of two laboratories to retain the critical mass of skills that Defra will require for the future.

  11.  Cefas is also able to access a number of funding streams to support our science activities. Defra currently procures services from Cefas by Memorandums of Understanding for R&D and non-R&D activity. Pressures on Defra budgets have resulted in a focus on UK coastal seas rather than work in the polar regions.

  12.  Although the Universities have benefited from recent increases in funding for the best academic establishments, the funding lines for other research activities (particularly those in the polar regions) have been put under severe pressure due to Government spending constraints. The relevant rules have changed recently leaving Cefas unable to access Research Council funding. There is a disconnect between blue-skies activity and a more directed approach to making the best use of marine resources and protecting the environment. The NERC community have attempted to address this issue in the recent "Oceans 2025" programme that aims to be more policy relevant, but there is still an impasse of free funding flow, and therefore information, between NERC and other Government laboratories that impedes better integration. It is noteworthy that of more than 500 current Cefas contracts only two are directly funded by NERC. Other initiatives such as the Environment Research Funders Forum (ERFF) also attempt to join up the community effort, but the evidence of well-integrated programmes is sparse.

  13.  The recent change in EU accounting procedures to require 25% rather than 50% matched funding makes EU research funding now more accessible to Cefas. We are actively working with Defra to align Defra R&D with EU bids to maximise collaborative pan-European marine science.

  14.  The recent OSI review of science in Defra[4] underlines the need to strengthen the sense of a Defra science community and ensure a strategic approach to planning and coordination of science. We are working closely with other Defra Agencies and the Inter-Laboratory Forum (a consortium of six Government Agencies bringing together the skills of 9,000 scientists) to invest jointly in future programme development. At a Departmental level the Fisheries and Marine Science Customer Group brings together the management of marine programmes across the UK and the Chief Executive of Cefas, with sister agencies in Scotland and Northern Ireland form the Management Group of Directors to ensure joined up working between the devolved administrations.

  15.  Current activity in joining up monitoring activity in the UK regional seas via the Defra led UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS)[5] is a good step in the right direction of better-integrated observational science. A cross-departmental policy grouping (the Marine Assessment Policy Committee, MAPC) leads the activity and brings together many institutes engaged in long-term marine monitoring. Information gathered by MAPC suggests that marine monitoring is underfunded by £22 million p/a if it is to deliver the full range of measurements needed to deliver the UKMMAS vision.


  16.  Recent global agreements on sustainability shape the changing approach to environmental management. Cefas' work supports delivery of the global conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, World Summit on Sustainable Development and Convention on Control and Management of Ship's Ballast Water and Sediments. Regionally the OSPAR Convention for Protection of the Marine Environment of the North Atlantic and Bergen Declaration elucidate the same management philosophy for our regional seas and provides a driver for much of the science at Cefas. The key messages that come out of these forums are the Oceans Initiative to develop a cross-cutting approach to regional oceans and coastal ecosystem management; development of management frameworks supported by indicators; and actions to reduce hazardous substances, combat eutrophication and conserve biodiversity.

  17.  European regulations are following the same trend and provide a clear legislative backdrop for the detail of Cefas science. Examples here include the new basic regulation of the Common Fisheries Policy and associated requirements, revisions to the fish disease control regulations (91/64) and the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. The Green Paper "Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and seas" will set the scene for sustainable use of the seas and provides for a strengthened approach to protection and preservation through the proposed European Marine Strategy Directive. The emerging directive sets the goal of achieving Good Environmental Status by 2021 and will require significant innovation in assessment and monitoring as well as in marine natural resource management. The strengthening of European institutions will have an effect on the dynamics of science delivery in support of management but a key focus will be co-operation at a regional scale.

  18.  Shared international use of marine resources, particularly fish has always fostered a joined up approach to management of marine systems. Cefas has been a key player in the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) since its' formation at the turn of the last century and our deputy director is the current president. We also provide science advice in management forums such as various EC committees, OSPAR, the London Convention and International Maritime Organisation.

  19.  Collaboration on marine science has been greatly facilitated by EU research contracts aimed at joining up the European marine science community. This is happening at a number of levels and the programme EFARO is a good example of bringing together senior scientists and directors of EU fisheries institutes to share resources, advise the EU Commission on future science needs and set up collaborative research programmes. At a working level there are also a number of Networks of Excellence that Cefas is involved in, including EUR-OCEANS[6] which has an overall objective to achieve lasting integration of European research organisations on global change and pelagic marine ecosystems and the relevant scientific disciplines. The network brings together 66 institutes in 25 countries. Cefas is presently involved in more than 30 European programmes.

  20.  We also lead the development of the integrated Arctic Ocean Observing System) Science Plan (Prof. R. Dickson,CBE 2006)[7] that was endorsed in 2006 by the International Council for Science Joint Committee for the International Polar Year as one of its "coordination proposals".


  21.  Support for particular areas of marine science have changed markedly during the last 20 years. We have seen reduced funding for research vessel based work on oceanography and productivity of the seas. Large open-ended monitoring programmes fell out of favour and have only recently seen limited renewed interest for long-term data sets in the context of climate change. Funding for mariculture in England and Wales was largely discontinued in the 1990's and work on the impacts of hazardous substances peaked in the 1990s.

  22.  Technological advances have largely been driven by private sector requirements such as in oil and gas exploitation and more recently in the renewables sector. Recent advances in molecular technologies in the marine sector are largely spin-offs from medical research. Our need to develop our science and technology ahead of Departmental Funding has been met by a "seedcorn" investment programme partly sponsored by Defra and partly by returns generated from wider markets income when necessary. Cefas has invested seedcorn funding to develop technologies to make remote measurements eg nitrate in marine systems and to introduce latest molecular technologies. Individual customers for our work rarely take the long view of developing such technologies.


  23.  Biological sciences benefit from attracting a large number of undergraduates to some very good universities in the UK. Cefas is able to recruit high calibre biologists at the postgraduate and postdoctoral level. Where we find it more difficult to recruit is highly numerate scientists with modelling and statistical skills and in attracting experienced scientists at the highest levels in the organisation. There is a two fold problem; firstly with the amount of funding available for scientists salaries and secondly for the continuity of funding for long-term research that will deliver government needs in marine science and climate change science and provide a well-planned career path for scientists.

  24.  The mix of nationalities working for Cefas has altered markedly over the last 10 years and the workforce is more mobile with higher turnover rates. This brings many advantages in terms of international networking and joining up the science base, but has the disadvantage for the UK that many marine scientists regard their workplace as global rather than local and they are more ready to move for increases in salary.


  25.  Cefas recently re-organised our science into thematic areas of work to give more emphasis on developing tools to assess the impact and develop methods to mitigate the effects of climate change. The principal research objective of the Climate Group is to understand the effects of climate variation and change on species, communities and ecosystems and the consequences for humans, in order to improve environmental management. Our strength in this area is the long-term data sets we hold on fisheries and ecosystem change.

  26.  Activities in hand at present include managing the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (on behalf of partners led by Defra), leading an ICES working group on the effects of ocean acidification, participation in the Marine Environmental Change network, refocusing our Fisheries R&D programme to examine in more depth the effects of the environment on fisheries, and aligning our current environment monitoring programmes with climate change measurements, eg pH change.

  27.  For polar seas Cefas has maintained a system of current meters in the deep sea east of Greenland since the 1980's measuring the flow of cold dense water out of the Arctic region that plays a fundamental role in the global ocean circulation and climate. These measurements form a component of the largest ocean-observing system in the hemisphere, the Arctic-Subarctic Ocean Flux study, which was instigated and is currently chaired by Cefas. Such studies allow us to map out and quantify the freshwater flux out of the Arctic, which is thought to modulate the thermohaline circulation of the World Ocean and provides us with an understanding to support prediction of future climate change.

  28.  Cefas is also participating in EU integrated project "Damocles" by running an array of instruments that measure the properties and volume of the water leaving the Arctic system in the coastal waters of Greenland for the first time. In collaboration with German and Norwegian researchers the increased discharges of technetium-99 from Sellafield have been used to examine the variability of transport pathways and rates to the Arctic and contributed to the development and validation of ocean transport model.

January 2007

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7   Dickson RR 2006. The integrated Arctic Ocean Observing System (iAOOS): an AOSB-CliC Observing Plan for the International Polar Year. Oceanologia 48 (1) 5-21. Back

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