Red Gurnard

Aspitrigla cuculus

Red Gurnard by Sarah McCartney

Image | Sarah McCartney, copyright Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Description

Gurnards are bizarre looking fish with a large bony head and distinctive snow plough shaped profile. For years they were thrown back or used as bait by fishermen but in recent years people have realised that they make great eating and their popularity is on the rise. 
Gurnards use modified fin rays as feeling legs as they feel their way around on the seabed tasting and feeling for their prey, crustaceans and worms. 
 

Sustainability Overview

Gurnard have historically been discarded and only recently  have they been appreciated as a food fish. Gurnards are fast growing and abundant fish although more research is needed to understand fully their biology, stocks seem to be stable in Cornish waters and this species has been listed as an underutilized species by a recent study by CEFAS. Avoid eating gurnards less than 25cm in length and during spawning season (April – August). 

Updated Oct 2017

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When is best to eat?

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Gill Netting

Cornish vessels landing to Cornish ports

Gill nets are lightweight nets made of nylon (monofilament) fishing line that are anchored to the seabed and are used to catch fish by entangling the gills.

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Beam Trawling

Cornish vessels landing to Cornish ports

Beam trawls are nets attached to a steel beam that holds the net open. The belly of the net is made of chains and the upper surface of the net is mesh. Beam trawlers pull two nets along the seabed simultaneously.

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Demersal Trawl

Cornish vessels landing to Cornish ports

Demersal trawls are large nets that are pulled through the water with the bottom edge of the net touching the seabed. At each edge the net is pulled open by metal ‘trawl doors’. Sometimes referred to as Otter trawling.

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How we rate fish

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Cornwall Good Seafood Guide rates fish on sustainability using a scale of 1 to 5.

1, 2 and 3 are recommended, Fish to avoid are rated 5.

We use the system devised by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) so our scores are comparable with the scores produced by MCS for the UK and fisheries from all around the world. For more information on scoring click here.

Sustainability Overview

Gurnard have historically been discarded and only recently  have they been appreciated as a food fish. Gurnards are fast growing and abundant fish although more research is needed to understand fully their biology, stocks seem to be stable in Cornish waters and this species has been listed as an underutilized species by a recent study by CEFAS. Avoid eating gurnards less than 25cm in length and during spawning season (April – August). 

Updated Oct 2017

Red Gurnard by Sarah McCartney

Biology

Gurnards belong to a family of fish called sea robins, or croakers due to the strange noices they make in the water.  Classified as a generalist, they are characterised by fast growth and early sexual maturity at a relatively large size. Red gurnard is one of the smallest European gurnards. The red gurnard is a benthic species widely distributed in the northeast Atlantic from South Norway and north of the British Isles to Mauritania on grounds between 20 and 250 m. This benthic species is abundant in the Channel and on the shelf west of Brittany. It spawns in summer and can attain a length of 40cm and a weight of about 900g, with a maximum reported age of 21 years. Gurnards are able to grunt or growl by the use of muscles associated with the swim bladder, and this is believed to aid in keeping schools together during the spawning period.

Stock Info

Of the six species known in northern European waters, red gurnard is most commonly exploited as a food fish. Although widely distributed throughout the Atlantic it is only locally abundant. There is insufficient information or data available to evaluate the stock identity or status of red gurnard as reference points for fishing mortality and stock biomass are unknown. However, landings and available abundance indices have shown an indication of stability in recent years. For this stock, the ICES approach to data-limited stocks implies that catches in 2013, 2014 and 2015 should decrease by 20% in relation to the average catch of the last three years. Because the data for catches of red gurnard are considered highly unreliable, ICES is not in a position to quantify the result. ICES highlights that the stock is currently treated as a single unit in the entire North East Atlantic. Currently there is no TAC for this species in the ICES area and it is not clear whether there should be one or several management units. Considering its strong site fidelity, natal homing and high residency, future assessment and management should identify and treat separate spawning aggregations independently

Management

There is currently no management for any of the gurnard species in the EU - there is no minimum landing size, no quota, and no effort, seasonal, temporal or technical regulations for the species. For management purposes, information is required on landings, stock structure and biological data in order to achieve sustainable exploitation in the longer term.
MMO data for gurnard catches is not well broken down to species level for gurnard and is grouped as Gurnards and Latches. Catches to Cornwall are increasing (over 200 tonnes in 2013). CEFAS identified Grey gurnard, Red gurnard and tub gurnard as species that are underutilized and could be better utilised by improving marketing opportunities and, in turn, reduce discarding.
Misidentification continues to be a major problem in estimating landings of red gurnard. In addition discarding is estimated to be high. A preliminary analysis by ICES scientists of catches in the English Channel has shown that discarding is above 50%. There are no technical measures specifically dedicated to red gurnard or other gurnard species. There is a potential for damage to the seabed by trawling. Trawling is also associated with discarding of unwanted fish, i.e. undersized and/or non-quota and/or over-quota species. Red gurnard matures at 25cm and efforts should be made to select fish at, or above, that size.
 

Capture Info

Red gurnards are mainly caught by demersal trawlers and beam trawlers in mixed fisheries. they can be caught by handline rarely and are occasioanlly caught in gill nets targeting smaller species. 

References

ICES Red Gurnard Celtic sea and west of Scotland Advice June 2014
CEFAS, Identifying underutilized species , Tom Catchpole 2011 
Cheung, W.W.L., T.J. Pitcher and D. Pauly, 2005. A fuzzy logic expert system to estimate intrinsic extinction vulnerabilities of marine fishes to fishing. Biol. Conserv. 124:97-111
 

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