Human Fisheries and Marine Animal Populations: A Long-Term Perspective

Submitting Institution

University of Hull

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Biological Sciences: Ecology
Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences: Fisheries Sciences

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Summary of the impact

Research into North Atlantic fisheries history undertaken under the auspices of the Maritime Historical Studies Centre (MHSC) has spawned, and been sustained by, a series of externally funded projects since 1996. The outputs of this research programme have influenced marine policy, heritage strategy, legal decisions and public educational provision concerning the relationship between human societies and marine animal populations over the long term. Such impacts have been delivered through searchable online stores of validated historical data, commissioned reports, websites (for academic, public and school audiences), presentations, dayschools, exhibitions, guided tours, books and journal articles.

Underpinning research

In 1996, the MHSC provided the British component of, and co-edited, a volume of essays on the status of fisheries history in the European nations bordering the North Atlantic [A in section 3]. On the basis of this exploratory investigation, the MHSC initiated a 4-year multi-institutional research project that culminated in a major collaborative work on the development of England's Sea Fisheries since c.1300 [B]. Due to its recognised expertise in fisheries history, the MHSC was invited to serve as one of the institutional bases of the ten-year (2000-2010) `History of Marine Animal Populations' (HMAP) project funded by the Sloane Foundation, to lead the `Shifting Baselines' workpackage of the EU-funded INCOFISH programme (2005-2009), to host the `British Arctic Whaling' (BAW) website (2003-ongoing), and to join the Leverhulme-funded ArcDOC research project (2011-2014). With its strong track record in fisheries history research, the MHSC was able to win funding for further projects — `Far Horizons' (Heritage Lottery Fund, 2007-2009), `Seawards Heritage' (Marine Management Organisation, 2012-ongoing), and `Seaward Peep' (Leverhulme Trust, (2012-ongoing) — as well as leading and managing the North Atlantic Fisheries History Association (NAFHA).

As well as generating approximately £566,000 in research income, the MHSC's engagement in these projects has yielded scholarly returns in three areas. First, knowledge and understanding of the scale, character and significance of commercial fishing activity over the long term has been created by analyses of archival sources relating to the production, transport and consumption of fish. This contribution to scholarship in the field of fisheries history is evident in the chapters researched and written by Robinson, Starkey and Barnard in [A], [B] and [F], and in the design and editing of these three publications. Second, knowledge and understanding of the complex interactions of human societies and marine animal populations has been enhanced by appraisals of the impact of fishing activity on the abundance, diversity and distribution of marine animal populations over the long term. This contribution to scholarship in the field of marine environmental history is evident in the chapters researched and written by Starkey and Barnard in [C] and [E], and in the design and editing of these publications. Third, expertise in the utility, collation, validation and management of data retrieved from an array of historical sources relating to the production and consumption of fish between 1611 and 2006 has underpinned the establishment of online, searchable datasets, replete with provenance and supporting documentation. This contribution to scholarship in fisheries and marine environmental history, and data management, is evident in [D], which was largely created by Nicholls and Barnard.

The key researchers at Hull at the time of this research were David J Starkey (Lecturer 1995-1999; Senior Lecturer 1999-2006, Reader 2006-2011; Professor 2011+), Robb Robinson (Honorary Fellow 1999-2007; Research Associate 2007+); Michaela Barnard (Research Associate 2003-2011; Lecturer 2011+) and John Nicholls (Research Assistant 2004+).

References to the research

[A] Poul Holm, David J Starkey and Jon Th. Thor, eds, The North Atlantic Fisheries: National Perspectives on a Common Resource (Esbjerg, 1996).

[B] David J Starkey, Chris Reid & Neil Ashcroft, eds, England's Sea Fisheries: The Commercial Sea Fisheries of England & Wales since 1300 (London, 2000). [RAE 2001]


[C] Poul Holm, Tim Smith & David J Starkey, eds, The Exploited Seas: New Directions for Marine Environmental History (St John's Newfoundland, 2001) [RAE 2008]

[D] Michaela Barnard & John Nicholls, comp., `HMAP Data Pages' (28 datasets, 313,000 records: [RAE 2008]

[E] David J Starkey, Poul Holm & Michaela Barnard, eds, Oceans Past: Management Insights from the History of Marine Animal Populations (London, Earthscan, 2007) [RAE 2008]

[F] David J Starkey, Jon Th. Thor & Ingo Heidbrink, eds, A History of the North Atlantic Fisheries, Volume 1: From Early Times to the Mid-Nineteenth Century and Volume 2: From the 1850s to the early Twenty-First Century (Bremerhaven, 2009 & 2012) [REF 2014]

The high quality of the research is indicated by the selection of items [B], [C], [D], [E] and [F] for formal research assessment, and the award of the following research grants through rigorous processes of peer review:

Sloan Foundation, New York City, six successive grants to fund `History of Marine Animal Populations' project, 1999-2010:

2009-2010: $400,000 [with Poul Holm (Trinity College Dublin), Andrew Rosenberg & Tim D Smith (University of New Hampshire); Hull's share = $70,000]

2007-2009: $600,000 [with Poul Holm (Roskilde University), Andrew Rosenberg & Tim D Smith (University of New Hampshire); Hull's share = $100,000]

2005-2007: $730,000 [with Poul Holm (University of Southern Denmark), Andrew Rosenberg & Tim D Smith (University of New Hampshire); Hull's share = $120,000]

2003-2005: $897,000 to [with Poul Holm (University of Southern Denmark), Andrew Rosenberg & Tim D Smith (University of New Hampshire); Hull's share = $140,000]

2001-2003: $1.2m [with Poul Holm (University of Southern Denmark), Andrew Rosenberg & Tim D Smith (University of New Hampshire); Hull's share = $210,000]

1999-2000: $30,000 [with Poul Holm (University of Southern Denmark) & Tim D Smith (University of New Hampshire); Hull's share = $5,000]

European Union, 2005-2009, grant of 4.5m euros to fund `Integrating Multiple Demands on Coastal Zones' (INCOFISH), a Specific Targeted Research Project [with 43 partners; Hull's share = £98,000]

Heritage Lottery Fund, `Our Heritage' grant, 2007-2009, £50,000, to fund `Widening Horizons: Blaydes House, Hull and the Sea'

Leverhulme Trust, ArcDOC, 2011-2014, £249,684 to fund `Arctic climate change 1750 to 1850: new insights from old documents' [with 3 partners; Hull's share = £5,000]

Leverhulme Trust, 2013, £15,000 to fund Artist in Residence (Hondartza Fraga) `A still better seaward peep'

Details of the impact

Knowledge and understanding of North Atlantic fisheries and marine environmental history generated by the MHSC has impacted beyond the academy in four ways:

(1) Marine policy: the MHSC's main role in the HMAP and INCOFISH projects was to develop and manage a Data Store (, which contains 28 datasets assembled from a variety of historical sources by research teams working in over 25 countries across the globe. The data are served through the global Ocean Biogeographical Information System (OBIS, and are freely available. Some 336 data downloads were recorded from February 2012 to October 2013, while there were over 70,000 visits to the web pages between August 2006 and October 2013 ([i] in section 5). The datasets have been used for GIS mapping, data manipulation and statistical review. They are integral to the `Historical Atlas of Marine Life' hosted by the University of New Hampshire, one of the HMAP partners ( In the context of the INCOFISH project, the datasets, together with the MHSC's fisheries and marine environmental history expertise, informed the development of policy tools relating to long-term fish stock measurement, ecosystem modelling, Marine Protection Area regulation, taxonomic recognition, international and EU specific legal instruments, and the `Fish Ruler', a simple, highly effective measuring device designed to dissuade consumers from buying fish that is short of a `sustainable length' because such purchases impair stock abundances now and in the future [ii]. Such tools formed part of the knowledge transfer from North-West Europe to South America, South-East Asia and Africa that was central to INCOFISH. The impact of this transfer was such that the EU identified INCOFISH as one of the 40 `success stories' (out of 10,300 projects) of its Framework 6 initiative [iii].

(2) Heritage strategy: Research expertise in fisheries history underpins the MHSC's role in the Holderness Coast FLAG (Fisheries Local Action Group) programme. Collaborating with a range of stakeholder partners — East Yorkshire Council, Bridlington Harbour Commissioners, East Yorkshire Living Seas, Hornsea Museum — the MHSC leads the `Seawards Heritage' project, which is specifically designed to raise awareness of the value of the district's heritage to contemporary fisheries businesses, as well as highlighting the ways in which the fisheries history of the Holderness coast can realise the tourist potential of the area. In addition to contributing an historical dimension to various of the sister projects, the MHSC has devised an advisory report to inform local government policy regarding the management of East Yorkshire's heritage [iv].

(3) Expert testimony: Starkey's research expertise in fisheries history was utilised in the resolution of a legal dispute between the States of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey in 2010-11. Commissioned by the legal firm of Ouzantes, Starkey (with Professor Richard Barnes, Law School, Hull), wrote a 6,000-word report that was presented on behalf of the plaintiffs to inform the Court's decision as to the amount of compensation that Guernsey was required to pay to Jersey in respect of the illegal exclusion of Jersey fishers from Guernsey waters during the 2002-2007 period. This entailed analysis of the evolution of legislation and customary rights relating to the Public Right to Fish, which dates back to Magna Carta, and an analysis of historic trends in fishing effort and catch rates in the disputed waters [v].

Educational impact beyond the academy: the MHSC's research expertise in fisheries and marine environmental history has reached a range of public audiences through various means during the REF 2014 census period. During 2008-09, over 3,200 people from Hull community groups, businesses and schools participated in events in Blaydes House, an eighteenth century merchant's residence that has been renovated and equipped to serve as the physical base of the MHSC [vi]. Among these participants were schoolchildren from over a dozen primary and secondary schools for active learning workshops on the theme of Hull's historic interests in the fisheries and whaling. The `Far Horizons' website, which includes pages designed specifically for schools, experienced over 32,000 `hits' during 2009-2013, while the `British Arctic Whaling' (BAW) has been accessed by over 18,000 visitors [vii]. At least 50 fisheries and whaling history lectures have been delivered to non-academic audiences by Robinson, Starkey and Barnard since 2007 [viii], while over 2,000 people viewed the exhibition of images on the theme of whaling and seafaring created by Hondartza Fraga (artist-in-residence) and her research collaborators (Barnard, Starkey) [ix]. Robinson's fisheries history research expertise has informed a number of TV and radio programmes; for instance, he was historical advisor on "Who Do You Think You Are" (Kevin Whateley, great grandson of a fish merchant in North Shields), screened in March 2009; historical advisor, Channel Four programme on the impact of railways in Victorian Britain (Hull to Scarborough, presented by Michael Portillo); Historical Advisor and Interviewee, "Available Light Productions", a BBC 4 Programme on the Fisheries of Britain, part of a short series on `The Sea' [x].

Sources to corroborate the impact

[i] Analytics report for the HMAP Data Store, corroborating the number of data downloads, 1 February 2012 to 31 October 2013; `hit' counter,

[ii] Description of the `Fish Ruler':

[iii] EU Press Release, July 2008, re: '40 Success Stories from Framework 6'.

[iv] Seawards Heritage: A Maritime Heritage Strategy for the East Yorkshire Coast. An advisory report prepared for East Riding Council, November 2013, corroborating the deployment of fisheries history expertise in developing heritage strategy.

[v] Report to Mourant Ouzanne Solicitors, Guernsey, January 2011, in respect of the States of Jersey v. the Bailiwick of Guernsey, corroborating that research in fisheries and marine environmental history informed Court proceedings.

[vi] Report to the Heritage Lottery Fund, December 2009, corroborating that 3,200 members of the general public attended `Widening Horizons' events at Blaydes House relating to fisheries and marine environmental history during 2008-09, including pupils from following Hull schools:
Stockwell School, Greatfield Estate; Bricknell Primary, Bricknell Avenue; Thoresby Community Primary, Thoresby Street; Appleton Primary, Appleton Road; Hall Road Community Primary, Hall Road; Craven Street School, Craven Street, Newbridge Road; Escourt Primary School, Escourt Street; Andrew Marvell School, Barham Road, Bilton Grange Estate; David Lister, Rustenburg Street, Newbridge Road; Kelvin Hall, Bricknell Avenue; Newland High, Cottingham Road; South Hunsley School, Melton

[vii] `Hit' counters, BAW and Far Horizons websites, corroborating the number of site visits, 1 January 2008 to 31 October 2013.

[viii] Attendance logs, corroborating the dissemination of knowledge and understanding of fisheries and marine environmental history to the general public through lectures and workshops, 1 January 2008 to 30 September 2013.

[ix] Attendance logs, Hull Maritime Museum, Hull History Centre, Blaydes House and Hull campus, corroborating the dissemination of knowledge and understanding of whaling and marine environmental history to the general public through Hondartza Fraga's art exhibitions, October-December 2013.

[x] TV and radio programmes, published programme listings and viewer/listener feedback corroborating public engagement with fisheries and marine environmental history.