July 2017 – News

UK Takes First Steps in Regaining Control of Fisheries: Recent weeks have seen a great deal of political turmoil, with the election resultiing in a hung parliament and the Conservatives having to make a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to stay in power. All of this has resulted in confusion over how, or even if, Britain would take back control of its fisheries. However, last month saw the government put forward plans to reclaim British fishing grounds in the Queen’s Speech, and this month the first step was taken in doing this when the government announced that the UK would withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention. This is a treaty which formalises an agreement between European nations to allows different European countries to fish within the six to twelve nautical mile zone of each other’s coastlines. This convention is separate from the Common Fisheries Policy which allows access of British waters to EU member states vessels but is still an important step in regaining control of British waters and is a clear signal from the government that it is serious about Britain taking back control of its fishing waters once the Brexit process is complete. Read more on the Sky News website by clicking here.

Conservatives Criticise SNP’s Fisheries Plans: Conservative MP David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland, has heavily criticised the Scottish National Party’s plans for Scotland’s fisheries. The Conservatives have already begun the process of removing Britain from European fisheries laws, as the story above shows. But Mr. Mundell has said that the heavily pro-Europe SNP would keep Scotland in the European Union and therefore the Common Fisheries Policy as well. Scottish and English fishermen are united in their belief that both nations would be better off controlling their own waters and not being part of the CFP. This sentiment was seen as crucial in the Conservatives winning thirteen of the fifty-six seats in Scotland in the election in June, many of which were in coastal constituency areas where fishing is an important part of the local economy. Click here to read more on this story.

Admiral Questions Plan to Police British Waters Post-Brexit: Following the news that the UK was withdrawing from the London Fisheries Convention a senior figure in the military has questioned how ready the UK is to control its own waters. Admiral Lord West, a former First Sea Lord and Minister for Security and Counter-Terrorism, said that the government’s plans to police British waters after Brexit are “amazingly complacent.” Lord West said that Britain had very few vessels to use to protect its fishing grounds and the three Royal Navy Island-class patrol vessels which are meant to make up the Royal Navy’s fisheries protection squadron are often used for other unrelated tasks. The Guardian produced statistics which appeared to back this up, finding that convictions and fines for illegal fishing have fallen from twenty-nine in 2010-11 to six in 2016-17. Conservative peer Lord Gardiner said that the UK had a “robust enforcement system” to protect its fisheries, but the level of fisheries enforcement which was required would need to be reviewed as we leave the European Union. Denmark has already said that it will fight to be allowed to fish in UK waters post-Brexit, claiming that it has a right to access British waters which goes back to the 1400s. The chairman of the European Fisheries Alliance, Gerard van Balsfoort who represents almost 20,000 commercial fishermen across the EU has also said that they may simply ignore any attempts by the UK to regain control of fisheries and simply continue to fish in UK waters after Brexit. Click here to read more on this story in the Guardian.

North Sea Cod Stocks at Highest Levels in Thirty-Five Years: News emerged this month that cod stocks are at their highest level in almost four decades in the North Sea. Between the early 1970s and mid 2000s cod stock plummeted due to commercial overfishing, meaning that only a tiny proportion of the cod eaten in the UK was caught in British waters. Most was imported from countries such as Iceland, Norway and Russia. However, a reduction in fishing pressure and changes in commercial fishing equipment (such as larger mesh size in nets) has seen cod stocks recover, according to the Marine Stewardship Council. The MSC carried out an eighteen month study which resulted in the findings and means that North Sea cod will now be certified as sustainable. The confusingly similarly acronymed Marine Conservation Society (MCS) still rates North Sea cod as an unsustainable choice, although this could change when they reassess the stock levels. The news is certainly positive for anglers, although many may be struggling to see the improved stock levels in shore catches, leading to scepticism about the improved stocks from some anglers BritishSeaFishing.co.uk has spoken to. Read more on this story in the Guardian by clicking here.

Caution Urged Over Improved Cod Stock News: Shortly after the above story broke the Guardian ran two opinion pieces from extremely influential figures in the marine conservation world, both of whom urged caution over the apparent revival of North Sea cod stocks. Professor Callum Roberts, a world-renowned marine scientist based at the University of York. Prof Roberts pointed out that although cod stocks were up the way the species is fished still causes immense damage to the marine environment, with corals and sponges being destroyed by trawl nets and many non-target species being caught as bycatch. He highlighted this by point out that species such as skate and halibut were once abundant in the North Sea but have all been wiped out by the effects of trawling. He ended by saying that cod stocks may have gone up but we are still a long way from managing Britain’s fisheries in an environmentally sustainable manner. Read the full article here. Another article followed by Mark Kurlansky, the American journalist whose 1997 book Cod: A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World was an international best seller. Kurlansky pointed out that the MSC is far from infallible and questions have been asked over the fisheries which it classes as sustainable. Kurlansky said that the MSC is often put under pressure to rate fisheries as sustainable and many in the marine conservation community were surprised when six fisheries for Patagonian toothfish (a species often renamed as the more consumer friendly Chilean sea bass when it is sold to the public) were certified as sustainable, despite very little being known about how resistant this deep-water species is to commercial exploitation. Another issue was that of shifting baselines. This is when people become so used to a fish stock being low that any kind of increase is seen as good news. Kurlansky notes that while North Sea cod stocks are at their highest in almost forty years they are still way below pre-1970s levels. Read the full article by clicking here.

Outrage at Video of Boat Dragging Shark: A video of men on a speed boat dragging a shark behind them went viral this month, with people on social media and beyond condemning the actions of the men. In the eleven-second video the shark is seen flipping and skipping across the surface of the water as it is dragged behind the boat at high speed, while the men on board laugh, joke and gesture at the animal. The video was filmed off the coast of Florida, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are set to investigate the actions of the men. Read more here.

Update: The Daily Mail have reported that the men are known for allegedly treating animals cruelly, with pictures emerging of them pouring beer down the mouth of a protected species of grouper and claims that they began shooting at a shark. A picture of the mangled remains of the shark they dragged behind their boat was also posted online. Click here to read the article in the Daily Mail. While the identities of the men have not been officially released, a large number of people have been naming them on social media. It is not clear if their treatment of the animals constitutes a crime under US law, but a petition has been launched calling for the men to get community service or even go to jail as a punishment. Read more here.

Angel Shark Project Launched: A new project seeks the help of both anglers and commercial fishermen to find evidence of rare angel sharks off the coast of Wales. Angel sharks (Squatina squatina) are a species of shark (sometimes referred to as monkfish) which was once common across all of Europe’s waters. However, they have been reduced in number to such an extent that they are now classed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, with a small population around the Canary Islands holding the only significant numbers of this species in Europe. However, recent years have seen a small but significant number of sightings off the Welsh coast. Natural Resources Wales has now launched this project which asks anglers and commercial fishermen to report all catches of angel shark and also gives advice on how this species can be handled and safely returned to the water. Read more on the BBC website by clicking here.

Olympian Phelps Races Computer Generated Shark: Last month we reported that Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps was going to race a great white shark as part of the Discovery Channels Shark Week. Little was mentioned about exactly how the race would take place, with many people sceptical that he would actually get into the water with a live shark. Such doubts were well-placed as Phelps ended up racing a computer generated series of sharks including a reef shark, a hammerhead and a great white. Thirty-two year old Phelps – the most highly decorated Olympian of all time with twenty-three gold medals – wore a monofin and specially streamlined wetsuit to even up the contest, and was (spoiler alert) beaten by the great white by two seconds over 100 metres. Read more on the Daily Mirror website by clicking here. The Guardian reported that many viewers felt let down that the Phelps didn’t actually get into the water with a live shark and that computer generated imagery was used to create the shark, read about that here.

British Man Almost Killed by Swordfish: A British holidaymaker was lucky to survive after a swordfish speared him in the throat. Alan Pope was with his wife in Indonesia when they went out to sea in a small wooden boat. It is believed that a swordfish jumped out of the water and hit Mr Pope in the throat. The swordfish then fell back into the water but the tip of its spear broke off and remained lodged in his throat. After returning to shore it the first two hospitals Mr Pope went to were unable to remove the spike, and it was only after having the spike lodged in his throat for 36 hours he was able to get to a hospital which could remove it in a three and a half hour operation. The swordfish spike pierced a point between two major arteries in his neck, meaning he was extremely lucky to survive the incident. Click here to read the full article on the Daily Mail website.

Shark Jumps onto Boat and Gets Stuck: Footage emerged this month of a shark – identified by the Daily Mirror as a mako shark – getting stuck in the guard rails of a boat off the coast of Long Island in the USA. The video does not show the shark actually jumping onto the boat but shows it thrashing around as it tries to free itself from the guard rails. The Daily Mirror also reported that the shark had “bloody dripping from its mouth,” but this is likely to be the sharks own blood. The shark was eventually helped free by the people on board. See the video by clicking here.

New Species of Sunfish Discovered: A new species of sunfish has been discovered in Australian and New Zealand waters. It was previously believed that there were only two species of sunfish, the ocean sunfish (Mola mola) and the southern sunfish (Mola ramsayi). However, a PhD researcher in Australia has found that there are genetic differences between these sunfish which are so distinct that they are in fact a completely different species. The new species has been named the hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) due to its ability to remain hidden from researchers for so long. The ocean sunfish is found in UK waters, particularly around the south and the west of the British Isles and can reach immense sizes and weights. Read more on the new species of sunfish by clicking here.

Concern Over Size of South Pacific Garbage Patch: A sailor who was instrumental in discovering and mapping the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean has investigated a similar garbage patch in the South Pacific, and calculated its true size. Captain Charles Moore has covered thousands of nautical miles during his years researching marine plastic pollution. While the plastic pollution in the North Pacific is well known there has been little research into the issue in the south. Captain Moore says that the plastic pollution in the southern Pacific covers around 965,000 square miles, showing how pervasive plastic pollution is across the seas and oceans of the world. Plastic becomes trapped in gyres due to the tides, currents and wind movements, with the increasing amounts of plastic pollution being put into the world’s oceans meaning this is going to become an increasingly important environmental issue. Read more on the BBC news website by clicking here.

Rare Pictures of Sperm Whales Sleeping: A Swiss photographer has captured extremely rare photographs of sperm whales sleeping vertically in the waters of the Caribbean. Franco Banfi took the picture of the pod of ten whales sleeping at a depth of around 65 feet. It is not known why sperm whales adopt this position to sleep in, and their average time asleep is only five to twenty-five minutes. Read more and see pictures of the whales by clicking here.

‘Eel’ Slime Causes US Road to Close: A truck carrying 3,400kg of hagfish (incorrectly referred to as eels in much of the media) crashed, spilling its load and forcing a road in Oregon to be closed. Hagfish produce large amounts of slime when threatened or stressed and the volume of slime produced by the hagfish after the crash meant that the road had to be closed for the clean-up, which required the presence of firemen and a bulldozer, to take place. The hagfish were set to be exported to South Korea where they are a popular food. No one (apart from the hagfish) was hurt in the crash. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Five Years to Save British Fishing Industry?: A spokesman for the Fishing for Leave campaign group has stressed that the government must successfully pass the Fisheries Bill which will allow the UK to take back control of its own territorial waters, and the UK fishing industry could be at risk if the legislation is not passed. John Ashworth has said that Brexit would “reinvigorate” the British fishing industry, and called for foreign boats to be banned from British waters for five years after Brexit to allow stocks to be rebuilt. He also said that the industry wanted a days at sea method of regulating catches rather than a quota system, and technology such as transponders fitted to boats could be successfully used to stop illegal fishing in British waters. Click here to read more.

Norway and EU in Fishing Dispute: In related news Norway hit out at the EU for allowing EU vessels to fish in waters in says are its own. As a non-EU nation Norway controls its own territorial waters and EU vessels have no automatic right to fish there (although Norway does let EU fishing take place in its waters under a licensing system). The Latvian vessel Senator was allegedly found setting thousands of traps for snow crabs in an area of the Barents Sea which Norway says is part of its waters. It was intercepted by the Norwegian coast guard and forced to sail to the port of Kirkenes in north eastern Norway, with the Norwegians apparently set to take legal action against the vessels owners and crew. While the Latvians and the European Union state that the vessel had every right to fish in that area the Norwegians are continuing to maintain that the vessel was fishing illegally. The case is currently unresolved and ongoing but anyone interested in how Britain will resolve issues with the EU and its fisheries post-Brexit will be watching developments carefully. Read more by clicking here.

Huge Jellyfish Wash Up on Welsh Beach: A high number of extremely large barrel jellyfish have been washing up on Welsh beaches this month. The jellyfish – which can be up to a metre across and weigh tens of kilograms – have been found on beaches in south and west Wales, and also on Cornish beaches. While the jellyfish are very large they are very weak swimmers, meaning that certain tidal or wind conditions can easily see them beached. Barrel jellyfish are not considered dangerous and have a very weak sting. Read more by clicking here.

Blue Shark Closes Mallorca Beach Again: Last month we reported that sightings of a blue shark caused a popular tourist beach in Magaluf, Mallorca to be closed to the public, with a blue shark later being caught and “euthanized.” This month there has been further sightings of blue sharks around the popular holiday island, with police and life guards being sent to the beach at Cala Major following sightings of a shark. Life guards on jet skis searched the area, but no shark was found and the beach was left open as it was early in the morning and no tourists were in the water. Another search at midday failed to find any evidence of a shark in the area. Blue shark attacks on humans are incredibly rare, with only four confirmed kills being listed since records began. Click here to read more on the Daily Mirror website.

Interactive Map Shows Marine Plastic Pollution: A new online interactive map shows where the estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans end up, with the North Pacific and Indian Ocean being revealed as hotspots of plastic pollution. The map was made by a New Zealand computer company and seeks to highlight how big a problem plastic pollution of the marine environment has become. The researchers calculate that over 90% of the plastic pollution in the world’s seas and oceans is made up of microplastics, tiny pieces of plastic waste which have an as yet undetermined impact on marine creatures and human health. Read more and see the map by clicking here.

Huge Sharks Caught and Killed by US Fishermen: A Texan fisherman has caught – and killed – a hammerhead shark weighing 1033lbs. The shark was caught by Tim McClellan and is the largest hammerhead shark caught off the coast of Texas, and missed out on being the heaviest fish ever caught on rod and line in Texas waters by 96lbs. However, the catch has been controversial as the killing of large sharks, while being long established in American fishing competitions, is becoming increasingly socially unacceptable. Many sponsors of shark tournaments are finding themselves deluged with criticism on social media, and many companies have been boycotted due to providing prizes for shark competitions. Read more and see pictures of the shark by clicking here. In a related story a 12ft, 926lb shortfin mako shark was caught off the coast of New Jersey, the largest ever captured in the state. The shark was caught around one hundred miles out to sea and was then killed and brought back to land and displayed at the harbour in Brielle. Newspapers such as the Guardian were criticised on social media for running a Press Association article about this shark catch with absolutely no reference to the conservation status of mako sharks or the ecological damage and moral issues surrounding killing large shark species. Read the Guardian article here.

Man Grabs Tiger Shark By Tail and is Immediately Bitten: Footage went viral this month of an angler in North Carolina trying to land a four-foot long tiger shark while waist deep in water. The man grabs the tiger shark by the tail and the shark immediately turns around and bites the man. Blood rushes from the wound as the man backs off and makes his way back to the shore. Local US news outlets reported that the shark was eventually landed on the shore, unhooked and released. Click here to see the footage.

Endangered Whales Found Dead: Seven north Atlantic right whales have been found dead in the gulf of Saint Lawrence off Canada. The discovery of the highly endangered whales is a devastating blow to the species as this single incident accounts for around one per cent of the total world population of this species being wiped. To make matters worse at least two of the whales were female, with one believe to be entering its reproductive years. Some of the whales had marks indicating blunt trauma force, indicating collision with ships, although this has yet to be confirmed. Read more by clicking here.

Drone Footage Shows Sharks Close to Children: Drone footage of a group of sharks swimming close to children went viral earlier this month. The footage was captured off the coast of Western Australia and showed a large number of bronze whaler sharks (also known as copper sharks) coming close to the shore to feed on an enormous shoal of bait fish. However, several of the shark swam extremely close to a group of children who were playing in the water on bodyboards. In the footage the children appear to be completely oblivious to the presence of the sharks. Sean Scott, who piloted the drone and took the footage was keen to stress that the children were not in danger and other people such as swimmers and surfers gathered to watch the sharks feeding. Mr Scott said: “I really hope it shows that, in a healthy environment like we had there, with so many fish and not over-fished places, that the sharks can live side by side with the people.” Bronze whaler sharks are not usually associated with attacks on people, only being responsible for a handful of a reported attacks since records began. Read more by clicking here.

Environment Secretary Urged to Act on Whale Slaughter: Last month we reported on the Faroe Islands annual whale slaughter which sees almost one thousand whales and dolphins killed. While the whale hunt is a part of the culture of the Faroe Islands there has been pressure for the islanders to move with the times and cease the practice of forcing whales into shallow bays where they are then killed. The Environment Secretary Michael Gove is set to visit the Faroe Islands at the start of August for fisheries talks and has been urged by campaign groups to pressure the government of the Faroe Islands to curtail the whale hunts. Britain is one of the major markets for the Faroe Islands seafood exports, and could therefore be in a strong position to influence the Faroese position on whale hunting. Read more here.

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