What is it, why is it needed and why you should you get accredited?

Despite welcome developments in Scotland, the Institute has become increasingly concerned at the lack of any sector-wide Quality Assurance or national standard for fish monitoring personnel.The IFM has also noted a reduction of specialist fisheries training courses coinciding with statutory bodies, NGOs and consultancies moving towards employing multifunctional ecological monitoring staff. Reduced funding also means that statutory bodies’ data gaps are being filled by third sector and ‘citizen science’ data. Furthermore, the Environment Agency’s monitoring review sets out a desire to work with others and an ‘ambition for all data across the water management community to be open by default’. 

This requires monitoring data to be collected by competent persons, to a recognised and accepted standard. Most, if not all, other biological and physical assessment methods have some form of accreditation or quality control system. River Habitat Surveys, optical diatom analysis and chironomid pupae exuviae technique all have fixed training and accreditation systems, as well as quality control processes. Macro-invertebrate monitoring has a detailed training programme and a quality assurance system for identification. Data can only be accepted from analysts who are enrolled onto a quality control programme. 

Fish monitoring is different; there is currently no UK-wide quality or accreditation system. Historically maintenance of fish welfare and data quality standards relied on specialist training, and a clear professional path for fish biologists within the water industry and wider fisheries sector; with something akin to an informal apprenticeship scheme existing. This ‘structure’ no longer exists within a multifunctional approach and an increasing diversity of organisations collecting monitoring data. Even where a traditional “fisheries” approach has persisted, recognition of competence is desirable at both an individual and organisation level, and essential to ensure high data standards across the sector.

Fisheries are often complex and fish populations are affected by many different stressors. Accordingly, fish are an important indicator of environment and conservation status and monitoring data are used for a variety of purposes. For evidence-based fisheries management monitoring fish is essential. This is often costly and involves the capture and release of a wild animal using a variety of techniques, all of which influence the nature of the data collected. The most desirable methods of fish monitoring from a scientific and ethical position are non-destructive with fish held and then released alive after biometric data are collected. As a result, there is no opportunity for quality control of the sample akin to those used for macroinvertebrate samples. For everyone using those data, to have full confidence in its quality, it is imperative that the work is undertaken to recognised standard and conducted by staff that are fully competent to conduct the survey, ensure fish welfare and accurately record the results on site. This is increasingly important with the frequent disconnect between data collection and analysis, and the desire to make data open-access and share it across the water industry.

There is clearly an increasing need for accreditation and as such it is unclear, despite some recent examples of good practice, why sector-wide standards do not already exist. So why now and why should the IFM run the scheme? The IFM’s Fish and its Environment specialist section reviewed current monitoring standards and, whilst recognising there are examples of good practice, concluded that this should be built on and a formal assessment of fisheries personnel collecting fish monitoring data introduced. The Institute is the recognised professional body for fisheries management and already provides a wide range of training and professional qualifications for fisheries related activities. 

As the professional body the Institute is ideally suited to lead on providing an independent, sector wide, standard and accreditation initiative. Independent scrutiny is important as there are often political and economic pressures brought to bear to reduce standards in order to meet contract conditions or reduce costs. With this in mind the section asked Barry Byatt and Richard Noble to put together a working group of experienced fisheries professionals working across the sector in UK and Ireland to develop monitoring best-practice and an associated accreditation scheme. This was under the watchful eye of Section Chair Jim Lyons and our Director of Operations Paul Coulson.

Accreditation will require candidates to have a core understanding of monitoring fish and focus on the practical aspects of surveying fish populations and the collection of high quality data. As well as a clear understanding as to why the data are being collected and how the information may be used.

The accreditation will take accountof the different fisheries processes and statutory requirements of the different national administrations.

The core knowledge areas (by delivery sequence) will be:

  • Survey purpose/aims 
  • Personal, team and third-party Health and Safety
  • Authorisations
  • Biosecurity
  • Survey methods (selection and design) 
  • Implementation: maximising sampling efficiency and ensuring consistency
  • Equipment selection
  • Fish welfare and handling
  • Conditions suitability assessment
  • Fish ID
  • Data recording

There are different monitoring techniques and safety considerations in the estuarine environment, as well as a greater number of fish species to identify. For this reason there will be separate accreditation for estuarine and freshwater disciplines. 

The IFM would like to see at least one accredited surveyor on each fish monitoring survey.The assessment system will be integrated with audited continuing professional development (CPD) programs. The Institute will develop and manage a register of accredited and audited fisheries personnel. Where applicable it will be integrated with other existing continuing professional development systems.

Why should I become accredited?

We think it should be the norm that data are collected to an appropriate standard by people competent to conduct the monitoring. Fish monitoring should work to similar standards as found in other ecological monitoring. Current evidence shows that this is not true in an increasing number of cases. Being accredited will give you the professional acknowledgement that your data are robustly collected and can be trusted. If you are in the private sector it is the validation of your skills that we hope could become a requirement within the water and environmental industry. If you are working in a large organisation it may be the pride of knowing you are accredited or accreditation keeps you involved in fisheries work, or a gateway to career enhancement or progression. 

As with any new accreditation or qualification there needs to be buy-in from the industry and a phasing-in process for experienced members. As such the IFM accreditation process will follow a similar route to the Chartered Environmentalist scheme, with an initial application process for IFM members with 7 years fisheries monitoring experience. This is considered respectful and follows an accredited prior learning/ experience approach. When implemented this initial process will run for 12 months. 

The initial application process will involve the submission of a technical CV and a written statement summarising relevant experience. These submissions will be reviewed by an expert panel who will either approve the submission or refer for a professional review interview. 

Those that do not meet the requirements of the initial process will need to undertake the full accreditation process which will involve an assessment of competency in addition to the technical CV and written statement.

The scheme is still in development but we wanted our members to be informed about what we are planning. Whatever the final details of the scheme our aim is to give recognition to the skills needed to monitor fish and to ensure that data collected are of known good quality.

Take a look at our terms of reference, scope and aims for the accreditation on the new IFM website If any IFM member has any comments or feedback please feel free to email the IFM [email protected]