Marine biologists from Brighton University are to study the threat to cuttlefish off the coast of Sussex.
The squid-like creatures are a popular dish in some European countries but there are no controls on catches and signs suggest that local stocks are over-exploited by fishermen.
A £60,000 research project is being led by Brighton University graduate Daniel Davies, now a conservation and research assistant with the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.
The aim of the project is to find out more about how endangered and how robust the marine creatures are.
Corina Ciocan, a senior lecturer in marine biology, is leading a Brighton University team for part of the study. They will look at egg quality and hatching rate.
The project has won funding from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and will focus on cuttlefish catches off Hastings.
Dr Ciocan, a former Sussex University research fellow whose work focuses on aquatic environmental stresses and contaminants, said: “Mature cuttlefish – or sepia officinalis – are targeted by artisanal fisheries off the Sussex coast.
“The lack of control measures on trawler catches and an increase in the market value has led to an alarming exploitation of this marine resource.”
Brighton University said: “The overall project, ‘Supporting sustainable sepia stock in Hastings’, will assess the survival rate and egg quality under natural and laboratory conditions.
“It will estimate the survival rate of eggs removed from egg receptors and returned to the sea and will use biochemical analysis to infer information on the size, age and brood condition of maternal cuttlefish. This will suggest the impact this may have on the fitness of any ensuing offspring.”
Dr Ciocan said: “The research will provide an improved understanding of the breeding cycles of cuttlefish within the English Channel and will reveal the impact of intensive fishing efforts on cuttlefish recruitment and population survival.”
Dr Ciocan started at Sussex in 2002 before becoming a lecturer at Brighton six years ago.
The creatures that she will study – a delicacy in the cuisine of some countries – belong to the cephalopoda class, which includes octopus and squid.
Concerns have been expressed about the potential depletion of stocks in local fisheries.