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Developing operational spatial models for Scottish fisheries

   Department of Mathematics & Statistics

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  Dr D C Speirs, Prof M Heath, Dr SC Smout, Dr Tania Mendo, Dr Helen Dobby, Dr Coby Needle  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

We are looking for a candidate with an interest in ecology, conservation, and marine fisheries, and strong numerical and computer coding skills.

 Over a third of Scottish territorial waters are protected by fisheries exclusion zones, called Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), involving a wide range of measures to promote biodiversity, sustainability, and conservation. Building on this the Scottish Government has released a policy document [1] on a world-leading suite of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) with a target of designating a minimum of 10% of inshore waters by 2026. These HPMAs will “provide protection from all extractive, destructive or depositional activities including all fisheries, aquaculture and other infrastructure developments… (making them equivalent to ‘marine parks’)”. While such closures may have positive effects on local fish stocks and through spillover to surrounding areas, the impact on any commercial fisheries exploiting these stocks (and the impact of fisheries displacement on other stocks) is less clear. Scientists providing advice to fisheries managers on these challenges have access to a range of spatio-temporal data from fishing vessels, such as vessel monitoring systems and electronic observation platforms [2]. However, the development of models to analyse the effectiveness of management scenarios has lagged considerably behind the availability of the data.

This project is built on the ‘Honeycomb’ model developed by Dr Coby Needle at Marine Scotland Science [3,4] to simulate both the west of Scotland Nephrops fishery, and the potential effects of MPAs and HMPAs in demersal fisheries. The model will enable an evaluation of the impacts of potential future changes in access to fishing grounds, in terms of stock sustainability and economic viability of the target fleets. 

The successful PhD candidate will join a vibrant research community at the University of Strathclyde Marine Modelling Research Group in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. They will be mentored and supported closely by the supervisory team and will actively participate in research programmes and knowledge exchange activities. Highly motivated PhD candidates with demonstrable strong numerical and computer coding skills from various backgrounds, including mathematics, statistics, oceanography, marine ecology, or environmental sciences are invited to apply.


We welcome applications from exceptional candidates with a solid academic record (at least a 2:1 Honour’s degree or international equivalent). Candidates should preferably have a Masters-level degree with Merit/ Distinction (with average programme mark of no less than 65%) or international equivalent, from an internationally reputable University. English Language requirement of IELTS band 7.0 or above with not less than 7.0 in each component.

 Applicants with great academic potential and clear motivation to conduct world-class research will be considered. Previous research experience in engaging with partners, academic writing, conducting systematic literature reviews, publishing research, and qualitative data analysis is highly desirable. The candidates should also be able to work independently as well as in a team, collaborate with colleagues and have excellent communication skills.

Funding Information

This is a 42 month full time CASE studentship starting in Autumn 2022 (or 84 months part time. However, part time study is not available to those who require a visa to study in the UK). The student will be registered at the University of Strathclyde, and the project will involve a collaboration with the CASE funding partner (Marine Scotland Science), and the University of St Andrews. The project is jointly funded by the NERC SUPER DTP ( and the CASE partner.

In 2021/22 The Strathclyde Global Research Scholarship Programme supported a number of high calibre international students by providing fee waivers, but the extent, terms and conditions of any 2022/23 Programme are not yet known). 

PLEASE NOTE: The SUPER DTP is unable to assist with visa costs for international applicants (either for yourself or for accompanying family members), immigration health surcharge, or any other additional costs associated with relocation to the UK.

Application Procedure

For informal enquiries, please contact Douglas Speirs, lead supervisor and member of the Marine Modelling Group, Department of Mathematics and Statistics: [Email Address Removed]

Please visit for full instructions on how to submit your application. Please ensure you enter SUPER DTP, the project title, and lead supervisor name in the application form.

Funding Notes

The project will start in Autumn 2022. The SUPER DTP provides:
• Tax-free annual stipend based on RCUK rates (currently £15,609 for the 2021/22 academic year)
• UK Level Tuition Fees. (PLEASE NOTE: International students are also eligible to apply, but they will need to find other funding sources to cover the difference between the home and international tuition fees. International places are capped by the DTP rules and subject to availability.
• Research and Training Costs


2. Mendo, T., Smout, S., Photopoulou, T., & James, M. (2019) Identifying fishing grounds from vessel tracks: model-based inference for small scale fisheries. Royal Society Open Science 6, no. 191161.
3. Needle, C.L. (2012) Fleet Dynamics in Fisheries Management Strategy Evaluations. PhD thesis, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.
4. Needle, C.L. (2015) Honeycomb: a spatio-temporal simulation model to evaluate management strategies and assessment methods. ICES Journal of Marine Science 72, 151-163.
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