Monitoring deep-water habitats in Australian crystal crab fishery

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australian Government and Australia west coast deep sea crab

Amount awarded: £47,080

This project aims to better understand the footprint of the Australia west coast crystal crab fishery on surrounding deep-sea habitats. The research team is developing a novel, automated and illuminated underwater camera monitoring system, which includes attaching cameras to crab traps to assess the risk to habitats.

The fishery targets deep-sea crystal crabs (Chaceon albus) in remote offshore waters, around 200km from the Western Australian coast. Vessels set traps in deep-water between 400 and 800 metres below the ocean surface.

The fishery was first certified to the MSC Standard in 2015 and has recently been recertified until 2026. During reassessment the fishery received a condition around habitat information. Conditions are timebound improvements the fishery must make in order to remain certified.

How the project will work

Although a camera system has been deployed here before, the cameras did not include lights and could only be used in shallow-water habitats where natural light reaches. The new monitoring system will include lights so the ocean floor can be illuminated. Light intensity will need to be tested to find out if the system is capable of long-term deployment without using excessive battery power. Light pollution will also need to be minimised in this deep-water ecosystem. The camera will have autonomous deployment and retrieval, reducing the burden for fishers.

A housing system will also be created for the cameras so that they can withstand the pressure depths of ~100 bar. This is seven times greater than previous models have been tested. Such a system can significantly increase costs, so the project will focus on developing a low-cost option using 3D printing.

The research team will then analyse the images and video to study the main habitat types encountered by the fishery. They will record habitat classifications in a database and produce a report on potential impacts. This will help close the fishery’s condition of certification and help it achieve best practice. The results will be useful to other fisheries around the world that face similar issues when trying to understand their habitat impacts.

These funds, kindly provided by MSC will help us ensure the sustainability of two of our fisheries – so we’re grateful for this. The MSC program has been important to me personally, as it’s improved our ability to better share our passion for getting the science right with industry colleagues.

Dr Dan Gaughan, Chief Fisheries Scientist Government of Western Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development

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