120 years of collaboration with Cefas

02 Oct 2023 | 153

We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Cefas Chief Executive Neil Hornby and Cefas Chief Scientist, Professor Grant Stentiford. They were welcomed to our laboratory in Plymouth by Chief Executive, Professor Willie Wilson. They were given a tour around our facilities to see our cutting-edge science laboratories and meet our research scientists. 

They visited our new Marine Microbiome Centre of Excellence, where they learned more of our unique and progressive facilities and world-class microscopy equipment that enables us to study marine organisms at subcellular resolution.

They continued on to our CPR Survey laboratory where our expert taxonomists were able to demonstrate their expertise and discuss the far reaching impacts of this Guinness World Record award winning plankton survey.

Who are Cefas?

Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) and the Marine Biological Association (MBA) are two distinct but closely related organisations in the field of marine science and research.

Cefas is a government agency under the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) in the UK. It is primarily responsible for providing scientific expertise and research to support sustainable marine and freshwater environments, fisheries management, and aquaculture. Cefas conducts research on a wide range of topics related to aquatic ecosystems, environmental monitoring, and seafood safety. It plays a critical role in advising the UK government on fisheries and environmental policies. 

The MBA is an independent scientific organisation with a long history of research in marine biology. It is not a government agency but rather a non-profit learned society. We focus on fundamental marine research, ecological studies, and the dissemination of marine science knowledge recognised for our contributions to marine biology. 

While Cefas and MBA have separate roles and structures, they often collaborate on various marine research projects and initiatives. The synergy between Cefas’s government-backed research capabilities and MBA’s independent scientific expertise allows for a more comprehensive approach to understanding and managing the marine environment. Their collaboration helps address critical issues such as sustainable fisheries, environmental conservation, and the overall health of marine ecosystems in the UK and beyond. 

David Johns, Head of the Continuous Plankton Recorder survey explains: 

“We are continuing to build upon our close ties with Cefas colleagues working together across a wide variety of topics – from Quality Assurance and Control of marine biological data, to plankton indicators for policy needs and natural capital assessments.” 

Dan Lear, Head of DASSH adds: 

“We have various established links with Cefas – to DASSH through MEDIN, with Cefas operating an accredited Data Archive Centre; through EMODnet Biology as we’re both partners and through IODE as both Cefas and MBA are Accredited Data Units (ADU’s). We work together on the Healthy and Biologically Diverse Seas Evidence Group (HBDSEG) that David Johns and I sit on for MBA, and the technical sub group – BioDIG (Biodiversity Data and Information Group) which I also chair. This relationship is invaluable in establishing coherent and comprehensive datasets to help inform policy.” 

Our Shared History

What some may not know is that as well as having a close, collaborative relationship we also have shared an intimate history for 120 years which continues to blossom to this day. 

Cefas’ origins date back to 1902, when a small fisheries laboratory was established in Lowestoft, by the Marine Biological Association to research the plaice industry. This was to support the UK’s contribution to the newly created International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). 

Notes from the Report of the Marine Biological Association Council 1902-1903 states: 

The work of the Council this year has been considerably augmented in consequence of the fact that a commission has been accepted from HM Government to carry out in the southern British area the programme of scientific fishery investigations adopted by the International Conference, which met in Christiania in 1901. 

In order to carry out the work which is required by the international scheme in the southern part of the North Sea, premises have been rented by the Association close to the fishing harbour at Lowestoft, and have been furnished in a manner suitable for conducting laboratory investigations. 

For the North Sea fishery investigations the Council have hired for a period of three years the steam trawler Huxley, a vessel 115 feet long and 191 tons gross tonnage…accommodation for the naturalists has been fitted up in the old fish-hold of the trawler, and a small laboratory has been built on the deck. The Huxley commenced work in November last. 

Indeed, this letterhead (from our National Marine Biological Library archives) from 1902 illustrates how the Lowestoft Laboratory was the Marine Biological Association’s second laboratory to our first in Plymouth. This letter was written in 1902 from RA Todd appointed as Lowestoft’s Assistant Naturalist for Invertebrates to Edward T Browne (Director of the MBA from 1910 to 1930). 

As the years passed at Lowestoft, the need for specialised research and scientific expertise in fisheries and aquaculture became increasingly apparent. In response to this, the UK government founded various research centres and laboratories dedicated to marine and fisheries research.

In 1984, several of these research centres and laboratories were amalgamated to form CEFAS, playing a crucial role in advising government agencies and policymakers on issues related to marine resource management, environmental conservation, and seafood safety. 

We look forward to another bright century of working together!

Neil Hornby added, “Our visit was fascinating and a chance to learn more about some of the cutting edge science being done there. The history of Cefas and MBA is intertwined and it is great that our close scientific collaboration continues to this day, more than 120 years after we first began working together. I look forward to continuing the relationship long into the future and continuing to do brilliant, innovative and impactful marine science together.”

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