The ambition of the PFA is to maintain a sustainable fishery for pelagic fish stocks, both now and in the future. Collaboration with science and research is an important requirement for that ambition. Martin Pastoors is PFA's Chief Science Officer and responsible for the implementation of the PFA research strategy.

Research news


Artikel vijf jaar self-sampling in de pelagische visserij uit Visserijnieuws 5 juni 2020

9 June 2020

Artikel vijf jaar self-sampling in de pelagische visserij: PFA Selfsampling.pdf


PFA annual reports for ICES expert groups (HAWG, WGDEEP)

24 April 2020

The PFA annual self-sampling reports for the ICES expert groups on herring (HAWG) and deepwater species (WGDEEP) have been published and can be downloaded here. 

Report for HAWG

Report for WGDEEP


PFA research report 2019

2 April 2020

The PFA annual research report on the 2019 research projects has been released here:
PFA 2020_01 report on 2019 scientific research projects.pdf


PFA self-sampling report 2015-2019

2 April 2020

The PFA self-sampling programme was initiated back 2014 and has matured and expanded over the years. The self-sampling is building upon the capacity already available within the industry to sample fish.The fourth annual report has been generated based on the self-sampling data of 2015 to 2019. Results are increasingly being used as input to stock assessments and to address specific biological questions on spatial-temporal patterns PFA 2020_02 Selfsampling report 2015-2019.pdf


Real-time fish classification from acoustic broadband data

5 September 2019

In collaboration with Wageningen Marine Research (WMR) and the Netherlands Organisation for applied scientific research (TNO), a research project has been completed that looked into the possibilities of developing and implementing real-time species identification and fish sizing algorithms using broadband echosounders (SIMRAD EK80). Through a period of four years, data were collected by different pelagic fishing vessels across the North Sea and Western waters Acoustic data was collected together with species compositions and length measurements on a haul-by-haul basis. Improved data processing was developed with accurate calculation and correction of the acoustic signal and efficient handling of the data. Two separate classifiers were developed that both use a machine learning approach that draw on the collected data. The results exemplify high accuracy levels of species classification (~95%). Expectedly, Mackerel is identified very accurately (>99%) although accuracies for Herring and Horse Mackerel were also very high (>91%). The classification is currently mostly based on data from one of the vessels. Because of the discrepancies between calibrations trials, it was not possible to fully combine the data from the different vessels at this stage. The full report is available at:


Deep-sea fish in new photo guide

25 August 2019

Researchers from Wageningen Marine Research and the Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association have jointly published a photo ID guide for deep-sea fish species. The guide contains photographs of nearly 100 fish species and 10 cephalopod species from the mesopelagic zone, which is between 200 and 1,000 meters in depth, in the north-eastern regions of the Atlantic Ocean. It helps fishermen and researchers on fishing vessels improve their identification of these species and their understanding of underwater life in the ocean depths.





The Dutch Fishing News (VisserijNieuws) published a long-read of the PFA research activities

14 June 2019

The Dutch Fishing News (VisserijNieuws) published a long-read of the PFA research activities of the past 5 years in the special edition on pelagic fishing, 14 June 2019. The article clearly shows the breadth and commitment of activities that the PFA has been engaged in and how that is changing the role of the fishing industry with science. [pdf]


PFA self-sampling report 2015-2018

3 June 2019

The PFA self-sampling programme was initiated back 2014 and has matured and expanded over the years. The third annual report has been generated based on the self-sampling data of 2015 to 2018. The PFA approach to self-sampling building upon the capacity already available within the industry to sample fish. Results are increasingly being used as input to stock assessments and to address specific biological questions on spatial-temporal patterns [pdf 2,8 mb].


PFA research report 2017

30 July 2018

The PFA annual research report on the 2017 research projects has been released here [pdf]


PFA self-sampling report 2015-2017

30 July 2018

The PFA self-sampling programme was initiated in late 2014 and has rapidly expanded over the recent years. Now, the second report has been generated based on the self-sampling data of 2015 to 2017. The PFA approach to self-sampling is unique in it's kind and building upon the capacity already available within the industry to sample fish. And it is providing detailed insights in temporal and spatial patterns relevant for fisheries and for biological and ecological understanding of ecosystems. [pdf, 1.3 Mb]


Video release on the industry survey on 6a herring

3 November 2017

During August and September 2017, the second iteration of the industry survey on 6a herring has been carried out by six industry vessels (of which three from PFA members). The survey aims to provide new and better information on the size and composition of herring stocks in the region. The filmmaker Andrew Scott summarized the survey approach in this video.


PFA in ICES training course on acoustic surveys

19 June 2017

Martin Pastoors participated in the first ICES training course on acoustic surveys (12-16 June 2017) that was lead by Paul Fernandes (University of Aberdeen) and John Horne (University of Washington) and attracted 25 participants from Europe, USA, Canada and Kenia. The course provided a thorough overview from the basic physics of underwater sound all the way up to the calculation of an age composition in an acoustic trawl survey. The overall process of an acoustic survey can be characterized by the following steps: survey planning - calibration - data collection (acoustic data, biological data) - echogram scrutinizing (identification of fish schools and species compositions) - biological data processing - calculation of fish densities on the survey track - interpolation to abundance estimates - splitting by age or maturity. It was very instructive to be guided through this whole process. Some ideas that could be picked up in the research within PFA: annual calibration of acoustic equipment on trawlers, using software for integrating multiple frequencies in one screen and training in acoustics for vessel crew.


Article in VisserijNieuws on the hake grid experiments

12 June 2017

In May 2017 we carried out research to try and avoid the bycatch of hake in the pelagic fishery for blue whiting. The trials were carried out on board of the SCH72 Frank Bonefaas. A description of the escape grid and the trials has been published in VisserijNieuws on 9 June 2017 (Article VisserijNieuws)


PFA publication on 2016 research projects

5 June 2017

An overview of (some of) the PFA research activities in 2016 has been published. This contains the main results of the projects on self-sampling, the development of an auto-measure device, improving selectivity, mackerel/horse mackerel egg survey, horse mackerel research and the 6a herring acoustic survey and research. [pdf, 1.8 Mb]


First PFA self-sampling report available

5 June 2017

The PFA self-sampling programme was initiated in late 2014 and has rapidly expanded over the recent years. Now, the first report has been generated based on the self-sampling data of 2015 and 2016. The PFA approach to self-sampling is unique in it's kind and building upon the capacity already available within the industry to sample fish. And it is providing detailed insights in temporal and spatial patterns relevant for fisheries and for biological and ecological understanding of ecosystems. [pdf, 13 Mb]


Report of the 2016 survey on herring in 6a published

31 May 2017

During the summer and autumn of 2016, the first industry-based acoustic survey for herring in area 6a and 7bc was carried out. Results have been presented to several ICES expert groups already. The final report of the survey efforts is available here: /media/pdf/Herring 6a survey report 2016_FINAL.pdf


PFA contribution to SPRFMO Science Committee

15 October 2016

The Science Committee of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) met between 10 and 15 October 2016 in The Hague (Netherlands). Martin Pastoors presented the PFA self-sampling programme. In 2015 and 2016 a full self-sampling has been carried out on the PFA vessels that fished in the Pacific. That means that all trips and hauls have been self-monitored. From a large part of the hauls, length samples have been taken and analysed by the crew. From this fishery, very detailed information is available to the stock assessment of Jack mackerel (Trachurus murphii). Although this type of sampling is still quite unique in the Pacific (and in other areas), several countries have expressed interest in developing a similar approach for their fisheries. Read more (pdf).


Video on the 6a herring survey available on YouTube

6 October 2016

A video on the 2016 industry herring survey in 6a North has been prepared by Andrew Scott and is now available online at


PFA and SPFA undertake first industry-led herring survey

3 October 2016

A pioneering industry-led survey of a key west of Scotland herring fishery is paving the way for fishermen to provide scientific support to fisheries management. Between August 1st and September 15th, six midwater fishing trawlers have participated in an extensive scientific survey of Scottish west coast herring that is yielding valuable data on the health of the stock. The acoustic and biological data gathered by the vessels will contribute to the scientific international stock assessment process used by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to provide advice on annual quota limits and other management measures.


Read more (pdf)



PFA goes Korea!

27 May 2016

On behalf of the PFA, Martin Pastoors participated in the 7th World Fisheries Congress, held in Busan, South-Korea from 23-27 May 2016. This is a global fisheries science meeting that is held once every 4 years. But it was the first time that PFA was present in this event. Martin gave a talk on the reasons behind the decline in fishing mortality in European waters. Many topics were covered in the symposium: observer programs, bycatch mitigation, management strategies, genetic research, ecosystem and biodiversity research etc. In general: an important event for PFA to be present and also relevant for explaining the PFA strategy for research and sustainability.


Successful participation in mackerel egg survey

27 May 2016

The PFA and IMARES have successfully complete a part of the tri-annual mackerel and horse mackerel egg survey that is coordinated by ICES. This is an important survey that contributes to the assessment of the mackerel and horse mackerel stocks. Read more


Feasibility of electronic monitoring on pelagic freezer-trawlers

11 March 2016

The Redersvereniging voor de Zeevisserij (RVZ) and Archipelago Marine Research Ltd. (Archipelago) have undertaken an exploratory project to assess the feasibility of electronic monitoring (EM) to achieve the monitoring objectives. The project was carried out in the autumn of 2014 and results were further discussed and analysed during 2015. A summary of the main findings can be found here.


PFA participates in International Mackerel and Horse Mackerel Egg survey

10 May 2016

On May 10, 2016 the Atlantic Lady (H180) freezer trawler will sail out of the port of Scheveningen to participate in the tri-annual international mackerel and horse mackerel egg survey. On board will be the crew of the vessel with Dirk Haasnoot as skipper and 5 researchers of IMARES with Cindy van Damme as cruise leader. The PFA is proud to be able to support the international egg survey by providing a vessel and crew and funding for the research. The tri-annual egg survey for mackerel and horse mackerel is an important part of the assessments of those stocks.


The contribution of the pelagic industry to the egg survey is the result of a close collaboration between industry and science that was initiated last year with an ad hoc pre-egg survey survey. This year the fishing industries of Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands are each contributing a two week period of survey time and a survey platform. Results of the survey will be collated into the international egg survey report.


After leaving port, the Atlantic Lady will sail to the survey grounds in the Celtic Sea and Bay of Biscay. According to the survey plan, 89 hauls with the plankton torpedo will be carried out in a fixed grid of stations. After each plankton haul, the number of eggs will be counted and measured. In addition, the vessel will aim to collect samples of adult (female) mackerel and horse mackerel to determine how many eggs can be expected per individuals. The number of eggs in the sea in combination with the number of eggs per female give an indication of the size of the spawning stock of mackerel and horse mackerel.


The vessel will be out for just over 2 weeks. It will be expected back in the harbour of Scheveningen on 24 May 2016.


Improving the information on the history of scientific advice

15 February 2016

In collaboration with ICES, PFA has recruited an intern who will work on the development and analysis of a database with the history of scientific advice in Europe. Marta Mosquera will work at PFA from 15 February 2016 for 3 months. The objective is to make better use of the advice summary tables in the ICES advisory documents, and thereby provide insights into the links between scientific advice, policy decisions and implementation.


Work on optical species recognition has started

26 January 2016

On 26 October 2015, Andries van der Meer, MSc student at Wageningen University, Biosystems Engineers, has started on his MSc thesis on optical species recognition of fish on pelagic freezer-trawlers. Andries will work for 6 months on the topic. We are looking forward to the results he will generate in his thesis. 


PFA is looking for a student to work on optical species recognition

16 July 2015

In collaboration with Wageningen UR Food and Biobased Research (FBR), PFA is looking for a student to work on new techniques for species recognition on pelagic freezer-trawlers. We are looking for a technical and innovative person who is familiar with different vision technologies and with the mathematics of converting images into patterns. This is an exciting new field of work where we will be applying lessons from other domains into the fisheries practices. The student position will be for 6 months, starting as soon as possible. To make a head-start possible, we are already collecting data on board of one of the trawlers right now, so that there will be images available to initiate the species recognition. 

Read more

Please contact Martin Pastoors at PFA ( or Rick van de Zedde at FBR ( for more information. 



Boarfish avoidance project finalized

10 July 2015

The Boarfish Avoidance project (Dutch: Vermijding van Evervis VvE) has recently been finalized. The project aimed to find methods to avoid bycatch of boarfish in the pelagic trawl fisheries by looking for escape solutions and looking for acoustic recognition techniques. Read more (pdf)


The project was funded under the European Fishery Fund: "Investment in Sustainable Fisheries."



Fassler, S. M. M., O'Donnell, C., and Jech, J. M. 2013. Boarfish (Capros aper) target strength modelled from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of its swimbladder. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 70: 1451-1459.


Pastoors, M. A., Van Helmond, A. T. M., Van Marlen, B., Van Overzee, H. M. J., and de Graaf, E. 2014. Pelagic pilot project discard ban, 2013-2014. Rapport C071.14.


Van Marlen, B., Fassler, S. M. M., and Gastauer, S. 2014. Avoiding the by-catch of boarfish in pelagic trawling. C137/14.



International workshop on the use of acoustic data from Fishing vessels

16 June 2015

On 12 June 2015, PFA organized on behalf of the EU pelagic fishing industry, a workshop on the use of fishing vessel acoustics for research. The workshop was held at Schiphol airport and was well attended by skippers, fleet managers and researchers. With the help of presentations from different parts of the world (New Zealand, Canada, Peru, Europe) we managed to develop a broad picture of the potential use and method for assembling fishing vessel acoustic data for research purposes. The acoustic data from fishing vessels could broadly be used for two different purposes: quantitative data directed at stock estimation and stock assessment, and qualitative data on overall trends and distributions within marine ecosystems. The overall driver could be to collect data where traditional research activities cannot reach (e.g. remote areas, rough weather, many vessels at the same time). More information in the report of the workshop.


Student positions available on different topics

18 May 2015

Fishermen are the eyes and the ears at sea. Being at sea for most of the year, they experience directly what is happening to the ecosystems and the environment. Changes in distributions of species or timing of occurrence, changes in abundance of species, observations of new species in certain area; all aspects that could well be monitored by fishermen out at sea. Making effective use of the presence, the knowledge and the experience of fishermen, has the potential to make significant contributions to our understanding of the oceans and to the management of natural resources.

For many years already, the Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association (PFA) has been an active player on the interface between industry, science and management. PFA members have all contributed to data collection initiated by scientific institutes (observer trips, catch sampling, logbook information). In addition, the PFA has initiated and commissioned several scientific research projects, for example on stock structure of horse mackerel, on the improvement of the knowledge base for horse mackerel, catch sampling in Mauritanian waters etc. And we have also been actively engaged in the translation of science and scientific advice into fisheries management advice through the Advisory Councils.

With the recruitment of Martin Pastoors as Chief Science Officer at PFA, the organization has stepped up in the ambition to effectively use fisheries knowledge for sustainable fisheries management. As part of this ambition, the PFA is currently engaged in several new research projects in collaboration with Wageningen University and applied research institutes like IMARES and Food and Biobased Research (FBR). These projects also offer interesting possibilities for students looking for thesis subjects. The following student topics are currently available:

  • Can fishers make the difference? Distinguishing different types of horse mackerel on the basis of detailed vessel logbook data (Ref 2015/01)
  • Search time of pelagic trawlers as a potential indicator of stock abundance of horse mackerel. (Ref 2015/02)
  • Exploration of use of camera systems and vision algorithms to sort and document fish on-board of pelagic trawlers (Ref 2015/03)
  • Where have all the females gone? Analyses of skewed sex proportions in herring catches in the North Sea (Ref 2015/05)
  • Evaluating the history of the scientific advice for fisheries management in the Northeast Atlantic (Ref 2015/06)


New research projects initiated

1 May 2015

PFA has initiated three new research projects recently, supported by scientific quota. 

1. Pelagic research fleet

Facilitate and improve the shore-version of Elogbook software. Explore the potential of coupling the quality data with the haul data. Explore how catch and by-catch information can be shared within the fleet and can be used for scientific research. 

2. Improving the knowledge base for horse mackerel

Using genetic and chemical sampling and usoing skippers’ catch information to enhance the understanding on the mixing of stocks. Investigating additional indicators of stock abundance based on groundfish surveys and search time in commercial fisheries. 

3. Sonar for species identification

Finalize the proof-of-concept of species classification using a Farsounder forward looking multifrequency sonar


Four EFF pilot projects to prepare for the landing obligation in pelagic fisheries

6 September 2014

Under the new Common Fisheries Policy in the EU, a landing obligation will be implemented for the pelagic fishery from 2015 onwards. PFA is actively preparing for this major challenge, by carrying out four pilot projects during 2014 and early 2015. Projects focus on 1) electronic monitoring to document the catches, 2) improving selectivity by net innovation with grids and 3) by testing with broadband acoustics for better species recognition 4) making best-use of unavoidable bycatch. Read more     


Electronic monitoring Net innovation Broadband acoustics Best-use of bycatch






Other ongoing research activities

6 September 2014

  • Improving selectivity for boarfish (2012-2015, EFF project).
  • PelAcoustics II: using acoustic information from commercial vessels for stock assessment

          (2013-2014, EFF project).

  • MYFISH: contributing to an evaluation framework for herring and sprat in the North Sea and IIIa

          (2014-2015, 7th Framework Programme).

  • GAP2: contributing to the development of management plan for IIIa herring

          (2013-2014, 7th Framework Programme).

  • Contributing to scientific monitoring and stock assessment for West-African waters

          and the South Pacific. 


Previous research projects

6 September 2014

  • Development of a management plan for North Sea horse mackerel (2013-2014, report)
  • Stock identity of western horse mackerel (2011-2012)
  • Preventing bycatch of megafauna in Mauretania (2007-2009)

More research

If you want to know more about
the PFA research activities,
please contact Martin Pastoors,
PFA’s Chief Science Officer.
Phone +31 631901027
Skype martin.pastoors