Marine and freshwater environment research services

What research and consultancy services Cefas provides, what legislation you need to comply with, and how to meet those requirements.


Scientific research and evidence play an important role in supporting the health and sustainability of marine and freshwater environments. Through research, monitoring and evidence gathering, analysis, advice, consultancy, and training services, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) works to shape and implement policy for the benefit of a range of marine and freshwater-based industries.

This guide explains the applied scientific research and consultancy services that Cefas provides, and how marine science and technology can benefit your business. It also describes the relevant legislation you will need to comply with, and how Cefas can advise you about meeting those requirements to reduce the risks to the environment, people and other businesses.

Marine and freshwater pollution and ecotoxins testing

Cefas offers a wide range of laboratory services that it uses to provide independent analysis and advice based on clear scientific evidence.

These laboratory-based services include:

  • tests and measurement of toxicity in marine and freshwater effluents, seawater and sediment
  • checks on industrial effluent discharge into controlled waters
  • full assessment of environmental radioactivity, including ultra-low levels of radioactivity in food
  • ‘biological effect’ techniques to assess whether chemicals might have adverse health effects in the marine environment

These enable Cefas to establish the level of risks from pollution and ecotoxins to fish, shellfish and/or the environment. They then advise how to reduce such risks. Cefas also has detailed knowledge of the relevant national and international regulatory standards. For more about such accreditation, you can read about quality assurance on the Cefas website.

Read about the analyses and testing of pollutants and ecotoxins on the Cefas website.

Marine and freshwater food safety and diagnostics

Through scientific research and monitoring, one of the main aims of Cefas is to help UK aquaculture producers raise fish and shellfish that are safe for human consumption. To do this, Cefas focuses on the monitoring and assessment of aquatic problems and diseases, suggesting preventative methods and offering solutions to marine and freshwater industries.

Cefas also encourages aquaculture businesses to operate in a way that protects the environment and the welfare of fish, shellfish and aquatic animals. This provides a range of benefits to the aquaculture sector, including:

  • improving the productivity of farmed fish and shellfish
  • providing for healthier fish and shellfish and controls on the spread of aquatic diseases
  • reducing the impact of the UK aquaculture sector on the environment

Commercial aquaculture businesses benefit from Cefas scientific research into safe and productive operations, including the review of possible vaccines, medicines and feed additives, or the testing of product safety and efficiency on a wide range of substances, eg disinfectants and additives. In addition, Cefas:

  • carries out algal toxins surveillance programmes to protect consumers from potentially contaminated bivalve shellfish - eg oysters, mussels, scallops or clams
  • samples for all major fish and shellfish diseases
  • provides identification, interpretation and protection services in key public health areas such as water quality and pollution
  • deploys scientists and its facilities to help businesses improve their aquaculture products and services

Cefas provides national and EU Reference Laboratory functions and services for a number of pathogens associated with shellfish and crustaceans. Find out about reference laboratory functions on the Cefas website.

Bivalve mollusc harvesting area classification results and maps
Cefas co-ordinates the classification monitoring programme for bivalve mollusc harvesting areas in England and Wales on behalf of the Food Standards Agency.  Data is shown by representative monitoring points (RMP) covering user-defined date ranges and maps which show RMPs and classification zones by the species of shellfish. This link also provides access to E. coli monitoring data generated by the programme and on which the classification of harvesting areas is based. For further information you can read about classifying shellfish harvesting on the Cefas website

Aquaculture regulatory advice and training

Disease prevention is vital for aquaculture businesses, both to ensure business viability, and to protect native species.

The Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI), based at Cefas, is the regulatory body responsible for the control of fish and shellfish diseases in England and Wales. Its work covers the import and export of live aquatic animals, the farming of fish and shellfish, the ornamental fish trade, and the control of non-native species.

Together, Cefas and the FHI offer specialist advice and training to businesses that farm fish and shellfish. Furthermore, as an internationally recognised centre for research into fish and shellfish, Cefas can also provide training for scientists, technical specialists and other professionals.

Marine and freshwater environmental advice

Human activities can have a huge effect on the marine and freshwater environment. Overfishing, mismanagement of aggregates extraction or pollution caused by leaks or discharges can all have a negative impact on the environment.

It is important to understand how marine ecosystems work, in order to better manage the environment sustainably. Not only will better management mean improved productivity and safeguards for your business, but it will deliver sustainable marine and freshwater environments for future generations.

Cefas offers a wide range of environmental advice based on its scientific research and expertise. Cefas provides risk and impact assessments of the effects of natural and man-made activities on marine and freshwater areas. In particular, it assesses any  risks to human and animal health, and evaluates the repercussions, risks and potential benefits of climate change on the marine environment.

Cefas’ research and its assessments mean that businesses can rely on advice about:

  • the environmental impacts of human activities - including fishing
  • aggregates extraction, marine construction and dredging
  • seabed ecology
  • emergency response
  • using nanotechnology
  • developing renewable energy sources
  • reducing risk associated to pipeline discharges and improving water quality

Fisheries management and fishing gear technology

Fishing has a vital role in the economic and environmental wellbeing of the UK. Cefas aims to ensure that there are healthy, sustainable fish stocks for the future by providing expert advice on the assessment, monitoring and management of fisheries.

Cefas also makes impartial, independent reviews and recommendations on a range of marine-related issues - eg the effect of fishing on ecosystems - and provides research on freshwater and marine fisheries. As part of this process, Cefas:

  • applies measuring and tagging techniques to gain the most accurate and reliable data
  • offers up-to-date assessments of commercial fish stocks
  • advises on monitoring, control and surveillance measures
  • works collaboratively with the fishing industry to inform its science and advice - through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) funded Fisheries Science Partnership

Cefas has also been involved in trials aimed at improving fishing gear technology. In particular, it is working on gear to help achieve better selectivity, in order to reduce the discarding of unwanted fish. This has already shown some success. Read about how fishing gear technology can help your business on the Cefas website.

Marine monitoring and mapping

Shelf-seas are the areas of sea closest to land, and are under the most immediate environmental threat from over-fishing, pollution and eutrophication - when ecosystems become unbalanced through increasing levels of nutrients, eg from excess fertilisers leaching into rivers.

Cefas monitors the marine environment, particularly shelf-sea areas, using scientific and targeted surveys plus autonomous buoys and data-loggers at fixed sites. The results that arise from this monitoring allow Cefas to provide advice to businesses on marine biodiversity and environmental quality. Cefas also works in other areas to obtain data on the impact of human activity on the marine environment.

Cefas is also a leading scientific advisor supporting marine-licensing decisions, and so helps to develop the frameworks for marine planning. Its monitoring data provides decision-makers with a clearer understanding of the nature, distribution and value of marine resources.

Cefas’ monitoring and mapping activities enable it to:

  • characterise the seabed, its creatures and habitats
  • assess water quality, and the effects of contaminants and pollutants
  • consider human activities, such as fishing or marine mineral extraction and constructions, eg windfarms, nuclear power stations, ports and bridges, etc
  • observe changes in, eg ocean circulation, or the state of animal health
  • monitor wave action and its effect on coastal processes

This work also allows Cefas to provide detailed advice for businesses encouraging them to reduce their environmental impact and work sustainably.

Marine minerals and construction

Cefas provides advice to government, local authorities and other stakeholders on the environmental and ecological impacts of any proposed sand, gravel and marine mineral extraction operation planned for coastal waters. It also considers the impact of proposed construction work on the marine environment - including piling and pontoons, major port or harbour developments and windfarms. Cefas also acts as the technical advisor to the marine regulators - the Marine Management Organisation and the Welsh Government.

Cefas provides advice on:

  • coastal processes
  • sediment contamination
  • navigational issues
  • designated conservation areas

Mineral extraction

Cefas also provides advice for businesses involved in proposed marine mineral extraction projects, on:

  • survey design and methods
  • applications - to ensure scientifically robust evidence
  • monitoring programmes

Construction projects

Cefas reviews the environmental implications of marine-based construction projects, and will assess the impact of a project in line with related licensed activities and regulations.

For dredging contractors, Cefas experts will consider a range of factors including:

  • quality of dredge material
  • dredging method
  • disposal contractor and vessels
  • alternative disposal options
  • selection of disposal site

Cefas has also produced a range of reports on the environmental impacts of various renewable energy developments.

Ports and harbours also need frequent dredging to maintain access, and this dredged material must be disposed of in accordance with established standards. However, some dredged material can be reused and Cefas works with the construction industry to advise on the benefits of using suitable dredge material.

Cefas also works with dredging businesses to ensure the correct and safe disposal of any contaminated material.

The Offshore Chemical Notification Scheme

The Offshore Chemical Notification Scheme (OCNS) manages chemical use and discharge by UK and the Netherlands offshore petroleum industries. It covers all chemicals used in offshore exploration, exploitation and the associated offshore processing of petroleum, which are likely to be discharged.

The OCNS covers operational chemicals and chemical products such as:

  • rig washes
  • pipe dopes
  • jacking greases
  • hydraulic fluids - used to control wellheads and blow-out preventers

The use and discharge of these chemicals must be registered with Cefas.

Notifiable products must be registered with Cefas, using a separate registration form for each product. You can find the Harmonised Offshore Chemical Notification Format (HOCNF) registration form on the Cefas website.

Chemicals that might otherwise be used on a ship, helicopter or other offshore structure do not have to be notified, nor do products used solely within domestic accommodation areas.

Marine and freshwater programme management

Through its research and monitoring work, Cefas provides expert advice to the government and businesses on the maintenance and delivery of sustainable marine and freshwater environments.

Beyond this advice, Cefas has also developed effective programme management, and provides secretariats and co-ordinating functions for several high-profile partnerships - such as the Marine Climate Change Impact Partnership (MCCIP), the British Energy Estuarine and Marine Studies programme and the Marine Aggregate Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF).

Cefas also leads a number of European Union-funded research projects, for example the Eeliad research project on the European eel - read about the Eeliad research project on the Eeliad website.

These projects are used to support the development of policy and decision-making.

Further information

Cefas work and services information on the Cefas website

Ecotoxin testing and analysis information on the Cefas website

Classifying shellfish harvesting on the Cefas website

Cefas’ commercial shellfish testing service explained on the Cefas website

Aquaculture disease diagnosis and prevention services explained on the Cefas website

Aquatic animal health and food safety guidance on the Cefas website

Aquatic animal disease database on the OiE Collaborating Centre for Information on Aquatic Diseases website

EU Reference Laboratory information on the Cefas website

Marine environmental advice overview on the Cefas website

Human impacts explained for marine and freshwater environments on the Cefas website

Marine ecosystems and biodiversity guidance on the Cefas website

Climate impacts and adaption information on the Cefas website

Fisheries management guidance on the Cefas website

Fisheries information on the Cefas website

Fisheries Science Partnership information on the Cefas website

Marine monitoring and mapping guidance on the Cefas website

Aggregates and dredging guidance on the Cefas website

HOCNF registration form on the Cefas website

OCNS information on the Cefas website

Marine and freshwater programme management guidance on the Cefas website

MCCIP information on the MCCIP website

Marine ALSF information on the Marine ALSF website

Eel project information on the Eeliad website

Published 16 October 2012