Saturday 22 February 2014

Fisheries, management and guest-blogging!

Just a quick one today really... If you are a close friend or follow me on twitter you will have seen me harping on about a guest-blog I have recently written for the Society of Biology. The SOB were one of the funders for my trip to Canada and the USA back in October - they gave me £500 and for this, I had to write a report on what I got up to whilst there, which you can read here. Whilst I was there, they noticed that I got some press coverage and saw that I had a blog, so I was asked me to write a guest-blog on my experience. I've been so busy that it took me months, so finally it was published last week. I'd like to thank Dr. Andy Woolmer for his help with the article.

Obviously, the main reason I went to Canada was to learn new techniques and more information about lobster diseases such as gaffkaemia (see my first blog), but since I am still working on the analysis and results for that, I decided to take a different approach when writing my article. I am fascinated by fisheries, sustainability and conservation and hope to one day work in fisheries management of some sort.

Currently, there is a review of all fisheries legislation in Wales, which commenced in January 2012 and whilst over in Charlottetown and Boston, I had some discussions regarding local laws and fisheries management, some of which were really different to ours, so I decided to talk a little about how we manage things over here, compared to how things are done over there, where awards have been won. If you'd like to go for a read and learn a little more about Welsh vs. North American lobster fisheries (and see some pictures!) click here, or.... I have copied and pasted the whole article here:

'What we can learn from our peers around the globe?

Guest blogger Charlotte Eve Davies, a PhD student at Swansea University, talks about receiving a Society of Biology Travel Grant to go to the AVC Lobster Science Centre, Canada.

‘So what do you do?’ is the question I get asked rather often. People look at me and assume, at the age of 24, I should be settled down with a ‘grown up’ job. Alas, I am still studying, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In truth, there isn’t a single word to summarise my work. Underpinned by a degree in biology, I have since branched out into various areas. Pathologist? Maybe. Marine biologist? I like to think so. Lobsterologist? If only that was a word! I like to keep my options open.

Last autumn, with the help of a Society of Biology Travel Grant, plus one from the Climate Change Consortium for Wales, I was able to take my love of all things lobster to the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island.

During my time ‘across the pond’, I learnt a lot about lobster fisheries!

When you’re looking at my area of research – assessing lobster disease, fisheries are the target. I think that Welsh fisheries management could learn some valuable lessons from the systems implemented in the US / Canada. Over there, v-notching, a system where females with eggs have their tails cut to indicate their ability to produce offspring, thus enhancing future stocks, is mandatory. Both scientists and fishermen alike there recoiled in horror when I told them that in Wales you can still catch and land berried hens (egg carrying females).

In Maine, USA, 1872, the first law was implemented banning the capture of berried lobsters, but it was a measure already practiced by many Maine lobstermen. Last year the Maine lobster fishery was awarded Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification as a sustainable and well-managed fishery. The Prince Edward Island lobster fishery entered into the process of being assessed for the same award whilst I was there.

Why are we so behind the times?

Unlike the co-managed Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities in England, fisheries in Wales are managed by various sectors of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association, who decide upon Sea Fisheries Legislation, or ‘by-laws’, which are then implemented by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Last year (2013), the Llŷn Fishermen’s Association bravely decided to vote in favour of implementing their own voluntary ‘berried ban,’ – disallowing landing of females with eggs. This unilateral move may have influenced the recent decision by the Welsh Government to propose a berried ban.  Amongst a raft of new crustacean management regulations being proposed, they are consulting on a berried ban in Wales for the long term benefit of Welsh fisheries.

The current Welsh crustacean consultation includes an evidence report outlining the case for a ban and other potential best practice management measures aimed at securing the long-term sustainability and profitability of the Welsh fishery. In Wales, unlike the rest of the UK, fisheries regulations are able to extend out to the 12 mile limit which really makes these effective management measures.

Opposition to these proposed by-laws comes from some fishermen, who worry about a depleted catch if the berried hens are off limits. However, it has been found that putting berried hens back does not cost the fishermen anything after the first season and the lobsters put back today can be recaptured once the eggs are shed.

Each 90mm lobster returned produces 7 lobsters for the fishery – based upon documented egg production at that size and assuming only a 0.1% of eggs result in lobsters entering the fishery. It’s a lobster win-win!

American and Canadian lobster fisheries are a lot larger than ours, but considering their success, we can afford to take some tips from them. The UK landed more than £32m worth of lobster in 2011, but unfortunately there are also imports of American lobsters into the UK (mainly for the restaurant industry), introducing an ‘invasive species’, leading to hybrid Euro-American lobsters and the possibility of disease transfer… but that’s a whole different kettle of fish!

Before I leave, a few words of advice on the collaboration front. Never give up. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, and if you have an idea, make it heard! You never know, you could wind up halfway across the world kissing seals (yuck), feeding turtles, and learning an awful lot more than you bargained for…

For more of my ramblings, check out my blog and find out more about the proposals for the inshore crustacean fishery.'

Whilst I know for many PhD students that writing their thesis and getting papers published is the main priority, I believe that writing small things like this, that are interesting to the public when written in an informal manner, are also a really good way of raising the profile of your research as well as getting those who wouldn't usually be interested in science, interested!

I should also mention that the Society of Biology offer £500 Travel Grants to student affiliate/AMSB and Early career/MSB members, and the deadline for the next round of grants is 31st March 2014. I get lots of people ask me about how I self-fund my PhD, so I will be writing a blog soon about funding opportunities, and my experience applying for them, so stay tuned!

Sunday 9 February 2014

Are European lobsters under threat?

An American (top) and European (bottom) lobster. 
So, in my last blog post, I talked about how I recently published a paper, which I am obviously very excited about! It is in the Journal of Invertebrate Pathology and is a result of my recent collaboration with the team of Dr. Michael Tlusty at the New England Aquarium in Boston, one of the papers we were looking over whilst I visited back in October.

The study was funded by the Marine Management Organization’s Fisheries Challenge Fund with the stakeholder support of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, plus some funding from another grant; the European Regional Development Fund (Interreg 4A, Ireland–Wales, 2007–2013, SUSFISH).

The aim was to assess the importation of live lobsters into the UK, in terms of disease transfer to European lobsters (Homarus gammarus). More and more, American lobsters (H. americanus) are being found in European waters, which have been documented by fishermen, most actively around Norweigan waters (Stebbing et al., 2003; Jørstad et al., 2011).

When I was out in Charlottetown, PEI, Adam told me that lobster would sell for around Canadian $3 per lb. There is significant competition between lobstermen in the Maritimes and across the Eastern coast of North America, so the prices are driven down. However, here in the UK, the price for European lobster from a local fisherman is around £14 per Kg, that’s £6.35 or Canadian $10.48 per lb, nearly 4 times more expensive than Canadian lobster! It therefore makes ‘sense’ for restaurants to import their lobster from the US – as even with shipping, it still works out to be more economical for them to import American lobsters. I put sense in apostrophes here due to the fact that I don’t think it is very sensible at all – I am all for supporting local fishermen and think that the carbon footprint of importing lobster when we have perfectly good lobster off of our own doorstop is totally nonsensical… but that’s just me I guess!

Sampling aboard a commercial fishing vessel in 2011. 
And this is where our problem begins. Accidental escapees and carelessness means that American lobsters are often released into our waters. On top of this, ‘conservationists’ who think they are doing the lobsters a favour when they see them in a restaurant and buy them with the view of setting them free, don't realise the real damage they are doing to the natural H. gammarus gene pool. Now, to the untrained eye, American and European lobsters can look extremely similar, especially when they haven’t moulted for a while and are covered with slimy biofilm, tube-worms and barnacles, however there are significant differences and beady eyed fishermen in Norway have been reporting hybrid Euro-American lobsters (yes, really!). The lobsters are being collected by Dr. Ann-Lisbeth Agnalt at the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen, where they have discovered that unlike other interspecies cross-breeds, these lobsters are not sterile! 

American lobsters are host to some devastating diseases which have not yet been detected, or tested for in European lobsters. One of these diseases is Bumper Car Disease, caused by Anophryoides haemophila, a ciliate parasite and another is Epizootic Shell Disease (ESD), a form of shell disease thought to be caused by bacteria, amongst other stressors. Shell disease syndrome, or in crabs, Black Spot, is endemic to the European crustacean populations (see Vogan et al., 2008), but it is not as severe or as devastating to the shellfish industry as ESD is in the US.

An American lobster with Epizootic Shell Disease. 
After that long-winded introduction, this is where I come in! Is it possible for my beloved European lobsters to get ESD? How will the 'invasion' of these pesky Americans affect our native lobbies? We devised an exposure experiment to test if when they are damaged in the same way, sharing the same tank and water, would European lobsters display the same shell disease as American lobsters? When I say damaged, we imitated natural damage by puncturing the claws as they would when fighting, as well as abrading the shell with sandpaper to mimic the natural damage from shuffling around under rocks and in ‘caves’, where they would usually reside. On top of the European and American lobbies in Boston, we had a like for like experiment running at the same time in Swansea, with just European lobsters (from the same stock as the ones we sent to Boston), to see how the disease (if any) would develop alone.

We did all sorts of analysis, including swabbing and photographing the induced damage development weekly over the entire experiment (about 10-12 weeks), which were then extracted of DNA, and tested using PCR (polymerase chain reaction) for the bacteria thought to cause ESD, a gram positive critter called Aquimarina homari (Quinn et al., 2012), photographing the time final shells or moults under Scanning Election Microscopy (SEM) and placing the final tissues into histology (which I am still in the process of examining).

Top (A): European, and bottom (B): American
cuticle, check out that difference in thickness!
When looking at the bacteria, we noticed that most of it resided around the pore canals and setal pits (hairs) on the lobster shell. Pores are little indentations for the transport of ions and minerals such as melanin to the surface of the lobster and the hairs are for chemo and mechano-reception (tasting and feeling the water). We aren’t the first people to notice the bacteria hanging around these areas (Smolowitz et al., 2005) and this observation along with the hypothesis that bacteria may cause shell disease (Rosen, 1970; Sindermann, 1991) means that these are probably the aperture allowing the entry of pathogens – therefore the reason why the damage we induced gives entry to the disease.

The American lobsters had a different array of bacterial flora than the European counterpart, but we found A. homari in both species - I won’t give too much away, as that paper is still being reviewed. My most exciting finds were of that under the SEM – European lobsters have a thicker cuticle (shell) and less pores on their claws than American lobsters. This is pretty exciting for European lobsters for a number of reasons… namely because it may mean that they are less susceptible to disease. Hurrah!

So, that is a simplified version of my work so far and to me, like I said earlier, it is very exciting. I like to think that it’s good news for the European lobster, but our study was just a small in vitro fraction of the whole population, so plenty more work so be done. For more of the science, see my paper: Davies, C.E., et al. A comparison of the structure of American (Homarus americanus) and European (Homarus gammarus) lobster cuticle with particular reference to shell disease susceptibility. J. Invertebr. Pathol. (2014),, and if you can’t access it, just leave me a comment or send me an email to get a copy – if anything, the pictures are pretty awesome. It’s currently only online
but should be in print within a couple of months!

References (I tried to link them all, but not sure who will be able to access them if you're not on a subscribers network)

Jørstad, K.E., Agnalt, A., Farestveit, E., 2011. The introduced American lobster, Homarus americanus in Scandinavian waters. In: Galil, B.S., Clark, P.F., Carlton, J.T. (Eds.), In the Wrong Place – Alien Marine Crustaceans: Distribution, Biology and Impacts. Invading Nature – Springer Series in Invasion Ecology, vol. 6. pp. 625–638.

Sindermann, C.J. 1991. Shell disease in marine crustaceans—a conceptual approach. J. Shellfish Res. 10, 491−494

Thursday 6 February 2014

Changing homes (not just the lobsters.. )

Home sweet home. My favourite sand dunes at Oxwich.
So, as ever, here I was promising to keep up with my blog but failing miserably! I've been back well over a month now, and it's been hectic to say the least.

To give you all a bit of a whirldwind tour of my life over the past few weeks, it has consisted of a job interview 2 days after landing in Heathrow, getting said job (wahoo!) and moving house to the Student Village. This is because the job was a live-in dealio (Welfare Warden with the university), which is perfect timing as a job-less self funded PhD student returning from an expensive trip.

I've been doing a lot of demonstrating and marking (Level 1 Cell Biology, Animal diversity, Bioethics and Plant Physiology) and have even given lectures to third year students (Level 3 Diseases of Aquatic Animals), a presentation called 'The diseases of the large-clawed lobsters, Homaridae.' -if you want a copy, just get in touch! Aside from all the extra curricular stuff I have sent off 2 papers for publication (shell disease work which I did during the first/second year of my PhD), one of which was published last week, and am currently writing one from some work I did just before Canada on lobster blood physiology. Phew!

Christmas came and went at a rate of knots (slow down, time!), and as I am now officially a third year PhD student, the panic has set in slightly. After the guys in Canada sent the samples which I had been working on over there, I have been trying to optimise a DNA extraction method in order to get total DNA of pathogens from lobster blood (bacterial, viral and eukaryotic), and spiking control blood with different concentrations of pathogens to work out how sensitive my extraction is. After 4 weeks of tweaking different things - it worked. I rephrase that... IT REALLY ACTUALLY WORKED, YES!! (This is how I felt, but there was nobody in the lab to share my excitement with, so the world will have to do!) I felt like I wanted to move Christmas back a week, and finish all of my extractions (all 611 of them) before I went home... what a scrooge!

Hotpod Yoga Pod much like Ana's... 
In other news - if you know me then you'll know I've been a fan of yoga since I started a class in my first year, but when I travelled to India in 2010 and discovered the joys of Ashtanga, it really started. Whilst in Canada I discovered the Charlottetown Moksha yoga school, which is 'hot yoga' - a sort of vinyasa flow yoga in 39 degree (celcius!) heat - a lot of traditional 'yogis' see this franchise as a bit of a commercial rip off, but considering I hadn't had a solid practise in a few months, I thought it would be nice to get into a routine again, and the heat really helped with relaxing and my flexibility. Back here in Swansea, my yoga teacher at the YMCA in Swansea, Ana Chidzoy, recently bought a giant pop up hot yoga tent and has started offering Hotpod Yoga - similar to the yoga I did in Canada, but the studio is not heated, just the tent is - this gives it a cosier, relaxed atmosphere and it's pretty dark, so you don't feel like you're being watched by anyone. The yoga is a mixture of Ashtanga, vinyasa flow and some Yin, Ana likes to mix it up with each session, and each week there is a different essential oil in the aroma diffusers in the pod - this week, it was Eucalyptus, with all the colds flying around it was nice to be able to breathe. Obviously as I am now in the last year of my PhD, things can get a little intense sometimes, so it's nice to take an hour or so out of each day, relax, let go of any stress or worries.

I have also been doing a lot of walking and exploring - I recently walked from Mumbles to Oxwich with a new PhD student in our department who has come from doing an MRes at the Exeter University's Falmouth campus to study vulture behaviour.

I have also been having some fun with my baby lobsters. Since getting them in June last year they are ever-growing, and I am trying to speed up the process in order to get them to experimental size. I modified some pipette tip boxes and filled them with gravel, which gave the lobsters something to occupy themselves with. It has been stated in literature that they will not develop their classic 'cutter' and 'crusher' claws without things to manipulate - so I decided to observe them over a few weeks. What I saw was really fun and interesting, they love moving their piles of gravel, and even though they are so small, the difference weekly was striking. Check out the following pictures where you can see their handiwork - much like little interior decorators!

DIY lobster homes..

Immediately after re-housing the lobsters into their new tip-box homes.

After 1 week.

After 2 weeks.

After 3 weeks.

After 4 weeks. 

Cool how it changes week by week, hey?! Since I took these photos over a month long period, the lobsters have grown significantly, started developing their claw differentiations, so they've had to be re-housed yet again.

So much room for activities!!
Anyhow, that's 4 months in a nutshell... stay tuned for another blog about my most recent paper, lobster invasive species and disease susceptibility... Exciting!