Defended PhD: ten decades, seven seas, forty species | Marine@Ugent

Defended PhD: ten decades, seven seas, forty species

Recently, Ann-Katrien Lescrauwaet from Flanders Marine Institute defended her PhD on 'Belgian fisheries: ten decades, seven seas, forty species'. This was a collaboration with the Marine Biology Research Group. 


Human activity has been impacting marine ecosystems for millennia, and fishing is most often seen as the cause of overexploitation and depletion of marine biological resources. There is a wealth of recent studies illustrating how our perception of pristine conditions in the seas and oceans has shifted over generations. This is referred to as ‘Shifting Baselines’. Historical data can contribute in explaining underlying cause-effect relations in changes in the ecosystems, potentially reveal information and knowledge from past conditions, and help defining reference conditions and achievable targets for environmental management today. The present thesis focuses on the reconstruction of historical time-series to expand our knowledge on historical references for the Belgian sea fisheries and to extend the timeframe of current analyses on fisheries. In achieving this, it is aiming to counter the concept of 'Shifting Baselines' applied to the Belgian Sea fisheries.


The ‘Historical Fisheries Database’ (HiFiDatabase) is a product of this thesis. It is the result of a thorough search, rescue, inventory, standardization and integration of data for Belgium’s sea fisheries that were not available before in the public domain or were not available before in the appropriate format for redistribution. It is documented and stored in the Marine Data Archive (MDA) of Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) and is freely available for end-users. Considering the relative size of the fleet, the short coastline and the limited number of fish auctions and fishing ports in Belgium, the present reconstruction of Belgian sea fisheries depicts a relatively complete picture of historical volume, value and composition of landings, fleet dynamics, fishing effort and spatial dynamics. The project and its methodology offer a blueprint to conduct similar reconstructions in other countries.


The HiFiDatabase broadens the historical view on fisheries and serves as a basis for a range of potential research, management applications, and in support of policy-making. In particular, the time-series provide unique historical reference conditions of fishing in the Belgian part of the North Sea and a potential baseline for fisheries management in territorial waters or for the coastal fisheries. The latter is useful in the context of the EU marine policy frameworks. Finally in the present thesis work, important efforts were dedicated to approach the history of fisheries from different disciplines of work. The results underline the importance of collecting economic data, inventorying historical archives and historical legislation, historical economy and politics, in order to improve the interpretation and analysis of results.


The full text and individual chapters are available from the Integrated Marine Information System IMIS (VLIZ):

You can also read a published paper on  'Invisible catch, a century of bycatch and unreported removals in sea fisheries, Belgium' here.