Postgraduate research opportunities

What is the role of discarding in the dynamics of the demersal fish community of the Firth of Clyde?

The purpose of this project is to conduct a comprehensive extraction and synthesis of all the relevant data for demersal fish species in the Firth of Clyde.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


13 March 2019


42 months


Fully funded studentships are available for UK students and EU students who meet the RCUK eligibility criteria. To be eligible for a full award (stipend and fees), a student must satisfy all of these conditions:

  1. settled status in the UK, meaning they have no restrictions on how long they can stay
  2. been ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK for three years prior to the start of the grant. This means they must have been normally residing in the UK (apart from temporary or occasional absences)
  3. not been residing in the UK wholly or mainly for the purpose of full-time education. (This does not apply to UK or EU nationals)

Project Details

This fully-funded studentship will remain open only until filled, and so we recommend applying immediately.

The Firth of Clyde has notoriously been referred to as an ‘ecological desert’ having been intensively overfished (Thurstan and Roberts, 2010). Circumstantially, it appears that intensive fishing may have driven the community to undergo the change (Heath and Speirs, 2012). However, given that targeted fishing for white-fish has all but ceased in the area, why has the community not recovered over an almost 20 year period? One hypothesis for the lack of recovery of the Clyde demersal fish community is that by-catch of demersal fish in the trawl fishery for prawns is sufficient to maintain a high, but hidden, mortality rate on the stocks despite best efforts to reduce by-catch by the industry.

The purpose of this project is to conduct a comprehensive extraction and synthesis of all the relevant data for demersal fish species in the Firth of Clyde. Then, combined with data from the archive of scientific trawl surveys, develop stock assessment models for the main fish species that will enable us to determine the role fishing in the dynamics of the fish community, and better define what remediation strategies are necessary to restore a healthy stock status in the Clyde.

Marine Scotland Science has maintained an observer programme in the Firth of Clyde since at least 1982, sampling landings and discards of demersal fish from both demersal otter trawlers and prawn trawlers. The student would need to spend some time at MSS in Aberdeen to compile data from the observer and market sampling databases. Thereafter, the time would be spent at Strathclyde, with regular trips to Aberdeen, working on the data and developing the stock assessments.

The stock assessment methodology will build on recent publications describing new methods for data-sparse stocks, and length-based methods (Cook and Heath, 2018). These methodologies are set in a Bayesian parameter estimation framework so as to provide robust credible intervals around the results.

The data handling and statistical modelling skills learned during the project will prepare the student for a wide range of careers in business, industry and government, as well as in science

Applicants should have or expect to obtain a good honours degree (1, 2.1, or equivalent) in a subject with a strong quantitative component. This may include biology, applied mathematics, statistics, or other quantitative science. Experience of numerical modelling and/or programming in R would be beneficial. Some experience in mathematical ecology/modelling is desirable, but not essential.

Cook, R.M. and Heath M.R. (2018). Population trends of bycatch species reflect improving status of target species. Fish and Fisheries 19 , 455-470.

Heath, M.R. and Speirs, D.C. (2012). Changes in species diversity and size composition in the Firth of Clyde demersal fish community, 1927-2009. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 279, 543–552.

Thurstan, R. H. & Roberts, C. M. 2010 Ecological meltdown in the firth of clyde, scotland: two centuries of change in a coastal marine ecosystem. PLoS ONE 5, e11767.

Funding Details

This studentship is available under the SUPER DTP for UK and EU students who meet the RCUK eligibility criteria. Funding is on the basis of 3.5 years in duration. The formal start date for the student is 30 September 2019, and they will be expected to attend a SUPER DTP induction event in Glasgow on 1 October. The student will be enrolled in the SUPER Graduate School and onto the SUPER Post Graduate Certificate in Researcher Professional Development.

Contact us

If you are interested in this project, please contact Dr Robin Cook.