Marine Conservation Zones: This month started with the news that the second batch of Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) would be designated around the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Another twenty-three MCZs will be designated, adding to the twenty-seven which were created in 2013 and meaning that over 8,000 square miles of British waters will now have some form of protection. However, the Marine Conservation Zone process is controversial as it remains unclear over exactly what protection the zones will receive. Each MCZ is assessed on an individual basis and the protection given the MCZ depends on the specific features which are being protected. For this reason damaging practices such as trawling, dredging and the creation of wind farms may be allowed within MCZs. This has led to MCZs being criticised as ‘paper parks’ simply lines drawn on a map which will not offer any real protection to the marine environment within them. The third and final tranche of MCZs will be designated in 2018. Read more about the new MCzs here.
Overseas MCZs: In addition to this the UK Government stated that one of the world’s largest MCZs would be created around the British Overseas Territory of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. This MCZ will cover almost 90,000 square miles and protect the rare species of marlin, sharks and turtles which are found in the water around the island, as well as the rare frigate bird which is unique to the region. Read more here.
Bass: The fact that British anglers are banned from retaining any bass that they catch between January and June 2016 was the topic of a Richard Littlejohn opinion piece in the Daily Mail on the 1st of January. Littlejohn remarked that any national politician who proposed restricting angler’s catches in this way would be “committing electoral suicide” but the European Union has been able to push through the legislation with ease and British anglers must abide by these rules or face a fine of up to £50,000. Read the full article by clicking here.
Anglers Criticised: Two Tyneside anglers were criticised this month for fishing from South Shields Pier during storm conditions. The pier, which extends a mile out to sea, is a popular mark for anglers from all over the North East, and fishes best for cod when heavy weather has churned up the seabed. However, two anglers (who have not been identified) still went ahead and fished from the pier when conditions were so bad that they were putting their own safety at risk. Read more and see pictures of the anglers fishing the pier here. The danger of rough seas was underlined when a fifteen-year-old girl died when she was swept off the nearby North Pier at Cullercoats this month. The girl was with friends on the pier when she fell into the water. Although she was rescued and taken to hospital she later died of a cardiac arrest, as the BBC reported here.
Killer Whales: Many people are surprised to hear that killer whales (orcas) are present in British waters but a small pod is indeed resident off the coast of Scotland. However, sad news emerged this month when one of the orcas was found dead on the shore of the island of Tiree after becoming entangled in commercial fishing gear, reducing the number in the pod from nine to eight. The pod is now made up of five males and three females but it is believed that all of the females are past reproductive breeding age, meaning that it is sadly inevitable that the pod will die out. Read the Daily Mail’s article on this story here.
Beached Sperm Whales: More sad news regarding the deaths of marine mammals in the UK was reported this month. A sperm whale washed up dead on a beach at Hunstanton in Norfolk this month and was shortly followed by three more sperm whales washing up on a Lincolnshire beach. This was in turn followed by a fifth sperm whale washing up on another beach in Lincolnshire. It is believed that the whales came from a pod which entered the North Sea at the start of the year. Sperm whales are adapted to live in deep waters and soon become disoriented and confused in the relatively shallow waters and the sandy seabeds of the North Sea and end up beached. Once beached the whales are doomed as there is no way of getting them back out to sea and the combination of pressure on their organs and overheating means they soon die. More sperm whales have been reported washing up dead on beaches in the Netherlands and Germany, and it is believed that the entire pod may have died. Read the BBC report on this here.
Captive Shark: Attempt to keep an 11.5ft great white shark in an aquarium in Japan ended with the death of the creature after just three days. The shark was caught in commercial nets and apparently transported still alive to the Churaumi Aquarium in the Okinawa Prefecture in southern Japan. Initially the shark appeared to be doing well in captivity as it swam with other sharks. However, its health soon deteriorated and it sank to the bottom of the tank as died shortly later. The staff of the aquarium defended the decision to try and re-home the shark but organisations such as PETA heavily criticised the decision to try and keep the animal in captivity. Read the Sky News report on this story here.
Microbeads: This month the BBC reported why microbeads – the small pieces of plastic found in face washes, shower gels, toothpastes and other cosmetic products – are so damaging to the marine environment. Microbeads end up in the sea when they are washed down sinks and drains as their tiny size means they bypass filters which remove most other pollutants. Microbeads are non-biodegradable meaning that they effectively last forever once they are in the sea and they are real concerns that animals at the bottom of the food chain may ingest microbeads leading to problems with animals higher up the food chain, including those that humans eat. There is some good news however, with key retailers such as Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Lush and Superdrug all stating that they would phase out microbeads from their products. Read the BBC report on microbeads here.
Last Eel Catcher: This month it was announced that Britain’s last traditional eel catcher would retire, ending a 3,000 year old practice. Peter Carter, 50, caught eels across the Fenland waters in eastern England using wicker hives and traps known as griggs. However, he stated that a combination of falling eel stocks and the inability to find a successor meant that he would be retiring. Carter said that he could trace a tradition of eel catching in his family back to the 1400s, but the stocks had declined to such an extent that earning a living by catching eels was no longer viable and he could not “live on empty pockets.” Carter said that he had found employment elsewhere but would still be working around the Fenland waters. Read the Telegraph’s article on this story here.
Girl Catches Eel: Finally a video of a young girl catching an eel with a tiny toy fishing rod went viral at the end of this month. The footage, which is believed to come from Australia, shows the girl calmly reeling in and landing an eel from a river using only a toy rod (which is no longer than 30cm) and tiny reel which appears to be made out of cheap plastic. Watch the video here.