Our monthly news digest of all of the issues happening across the world relating to sea fishing, conservation and other issues relating to the marine environment.
September 2016 News
Bluefin Tuna Caught: A charter skipper caught a 300lbs Bluefin tuna off the coast of Wales this month. Charter skipper Dave Price had been fishing with a group of friends and had caught several blue shark and hooked the fish as he was getting ready to pack up. He battled the fish for over an hour and only realised what it was when he managed to get the 6ft 3in fish on board. The species is much more common around the Atlantic and Mediterranean, but appears to be increasing in number in UK waters, possibly as a result of warming sea temperatures. While Bluefin tuna is immensely commercially valuable, Mr. Price had to return his catch to the sea as dwindling numbers mean the species is subject to restrictions and landing bans. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.
200lb Swordfish on Welsh Beach: A an 8ft long swordfish weighing an estimated 200lbs was found washed up on a Welsh beach this month. The discovery was made by John and Helen Swancott as they took an early morning walk along the beach. They were alerted to the dead swordfish when their dog began barking and trying to drag it out of the sea. Swordfish are usually found in the warmer parts of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Pacific, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean and can grow to a maximum size of well over 100lbs. While extremely rare they are not unheard of in UK waters. In 2006 a 58lbs swordfish was caught off the coast of Northumberland, and in 2013 a trawler caught another swordfish off the coast of South Tyneside. Read more and see pictures here.
Marine Conservation Zone Problems: Two articles in the Guardian this week claimed that Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) may actually cause problems and fail to sufficiently protect marine environments. Firstly Oliver Milman argued that the vast size of Hawaii’s Papah?naumoku?kea MCZ actually highlights how little of the world’s seas and oceans are given any protection – click here to read. While the Papah?naumoku?kea MCZ covers 580,000 square miles (three times the size of California) Milman argues that its creation has been rushed through as one of the final touches of President Obama’s legacy. He goes on to say that less than 4% of the world’s oceans are protected, much less than the amount of land that is given over to protection in the form of national parks. Another article by John Vidal argued that the Papah?naumoku?kea MCZ could work against conservation by being a ‘paper park’ – an area which looks like it is protected but very little is actually done to conserve the marine environment inside it – read here. This is an argument which will be very familiar to people who are following the MCZs being designated around the UK as there is still no clear information about what protection will actually be given to an area which is made into a MCZ around Britain.
Microbead Ban: The UK government announced this month that it will ban microbeads by 2017 to protect the marine environment. Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic, usually less than half a millimetre in diameter which are added to facewashes, toothpastes and cosmetic products due to their cleaning and exfoliating properties. However, they cause immense damage to the marine environment as they are consumed by immature fish and other creatures which feed by filtering sea water through their bodies. Research by the University of Plymouth has found that a single tube of facewash can contain over 2.8 million individual microbeads, and 100,000 can be released with every use. Microbeads are so small that they bypass sewage works and filtration systems and there are now fears that they could end up in the human food chain via consumption of fish which have fed on smaller fish which had microbeads in them. While the vast majority of cosmetics companies had promised to phase out microbeads by 2020 the UK government has acted to ban them by next year to try and halt the damage they are causing to seas and oceans. Read more here.
Tuna Protection Talks Fail: Pacific nations met this month to discuss measures to protect Pacific tuna and stop the alarming decline in stock levels of the most commercially valuable species. However, talks failed to come to any form of agreement at the talks which were held in Japan, leading to condemnation from conservationists who stated that tuna desperately need protection to avoid a total collapse. The Pacific is the world’s largest tuna fishery, accounting for around 60% of global catches. Stocks of Bluefin tuna are believed to be at around 2.6% of levels before intensive industrial fishing of this species began. Read more here.
Eel’s 3,500 Mile Journey: A silver eel was found in central England after completing an 3,500 mile journey from Bermuda. The eel was found in a West Bromwich waterway after work was carried out to save fish following a pollution incident. While many anglers may be familiar with the life cycle of the silver eel most people are surprised to hear that they are born in the warm waters of the Caribbean and then swim many thousands of miles to Europe. Once here they make their way into estuaries and then along rivers and live in freshwater for years. Following this period of their life they leave rivers and live in a marine environment for anything ranging from months to years before making the long journey back to the Caribbean, spawning and then dying, with their young repeating the same life cycle. Since silver eels numbers have been reduced dramatically over recent decades and they are now classed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature it is good to hear that this eel was safely returned to the canal. Read more by clicking here.
Global Fish Fraud: Time Magazine reported research carried out by Oceana – the world’s largest ocean conservation charity – which found that fish fraud was rampant on a global basis. Oceana examined the global supply chain of fish, looking at studies from fifty-five countries and found that around of fifth of all seafood was mislabelled. There were some eye-opening findings, such as a Californian restaurant passing off whale meat as tuna and a Brussels restaurant in which 98% of Bluefin tuna dishes were made with a different species of fish. The report stated that this was a major problem for consumers as they would not be able to make informed decisions about which species of fish to eat, but also fishermen, as those who played by the rules and labelled fish correctly were being undercut by fishermen who took part in fraudulent practices. The US government has already taken action, bringing in legislation which makes it easier to trace the origin of seafood. The authors of the report stated that consumers should ask more questions about where the fish they buy comes from in order to encourage retailers to supply fish responsibly. Read the article in Time Magazine online here.
Humans Driving Marine Extinction: A sobering article in the Guardian this month stated that human actions were driving the extinction of marine species in a way which has never been seen before. The article said that while mass extinctions have happened in the past this one is different as humans generally take the largest marine species such as sharks, cod and tuna. The loss of these larges species has a cascade effect with all levels of marine creatures being in turn affected, and leading to consequences which could last for millions of years. One example cited was the loss of very large predatory sea snails from coral reefs. While this may not seem serious in itself it has led to an explosion in the numbers of crown of thorns starfish which eat coral. The number of crown of thorns starfish has led to mass loss of coral and corresponding decline of tourism to certain areas which has major impacts upon local economies and communities. The article stated that the huge new marine reserves which the British and US governments (see below) have been setting up around the world offered some hope for reviving the numbers of large marine species. Read the article here – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/14/humanity-driving-unprecedented-marine-extinction
Fishing Banned in Overseas Protected Areas: While it was announced earlier this year that the UK government was setting up huge marine protected areas in the Pacific and Atlantic it has now been announced that commercial fishing will be banned across almost one million square kilometres of them. Commercial fishing – apart from sustainable local fishing by Pitcairn’s forty-nine residents – will be banned in the entire Pitcairn reserve as well as other areas, meaning that fish, marine mammals and sea birds will be able to avoid intentional capture or accidental bycatch and the marine environment will be able to recover from the impact of destructive commercial fishing practices. In other areas activities such as oil drilling will also be banned. Overall around four million square kilometres of ocean will receive some form of protection. Read more here – https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/15/uk-to-ban-fishing-from-a-million-square-kilometres-of-ocean
Fishy Beer: The BBC reported this month that vegetarians are unhappy that many brands of beer include an ingredient made from fish. Isinglass is a substance made from the swim bladders of fish which is used as a fining agent to give beer a clearer and brighter colour and make it more attractive to consumers. However, many people are unaware that both specialist micro-breweries and mass manufacturers use isinglass, with vegetarians and vegans in particular unhappy that they could be inadvertently consuming beer which has animal products in it. The BBC state that a number of small breweries are now making beer without isinglass which is Vegetarian Society approved, and there is hope that there will be a move away from including isinglass in beer manufacture in the future. Read the full BBC article here.
Fin Whale Stranded off Shetland: A fin whale found stranded off a small Shetland Island has died after attempts to refloat it were unsuccessful. The whale was found off the uninhabited island of Noss and was originally believed to be a minke whale, but analysis of the photos showed that it had in fact been a fin whale, a rare species which is one of the largest animals in the world and can grow to around 28 metres in length and weigh over 70 tons. Fin whales are usually found far out to sea off the continental shelves, but have been known to come close to the mainland of Britain and Ireland on rare occasions. Read more here.
World’s Oldest Fishing Hooks Discovered: Two fishing hooks found on a Japanese island may be the oldest ever discovered. They were found on Okinawa Island, just off the Japanese mainland by archaeologists who were excavating a cave and are believed to have been made out of sea snail shell. Previously the oldest fishing hooks were thought to have been 16,000 to 18,000 years old, but the Japanese hooks are thought to be around 23,000 year old. The discovery may mean that early modern humans were much more resourceful than previously realised and might have been able to use develop their own technology to a much greater extent that previously believed. Read the full article here.
African Fish Stocks ‘Stolen’: The Independent ran a story this month explaining how African fish stocks – vital to feed local people – are being caught and exported to the West to feed livestock. The report stated that local fishermen in African countries such as Senegal are having their livelihoods destroyed by foreign fishing companies which are setting up fish processing plants in their countries – a dozen have been built in recent years in Senegal, and there are twenty-eight in the impoverished West African nation of Mauritania, with more either planned or under construction. These processing plants are supplied by supertrawlers which catch fish in African waters and send the fish to the plants. Once it is processed into fishmeal or fish oil it is exported to the West to feed livestock such as pigs, chicken or cows, or farmed fish such as Scottish salmon. The Independent reports that the biomass of fish in Senagalese waters has decline from around one million tons to 400,000 tons in recent years, and the rising price of fish in the African market is a key sign that supply is decreasing. The UN World Food Programme has found that West African countries are heavily reliant on fish as the primary form of protein for people to consume, and the loss of fish stocks would have serious impacts on economies, communities and political stability. Furthermore there are serious questions to ask over the ways in which Western companies are keeping quiet about the way they are using African fish stocks to feed live stock which is sold in the West. With sustainability and conservation becoming increasingly important issues will food companies and supermarkets be happy to be associated with taking food from one of the poorest regions in the world to feed livestock in one of the richest? Read the full article here.
Portuguese Man-O-War in Cornwall: Beachgoers in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles were told to be on the look-out for the potentially deadly Portuguese man-O-war jellyfish which had been reported to be washing up on beaches across those regions. Usually found in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and the warmer parts of the Atlantic there has been reports of high numbers of the species around the coastline of the Republic of Ireland and they appear to have made their way to the southern parts of England. The tentacles of the Portuguese man-O-war can trail for twenty metres and contain cells which can inflict agonising, and potentially fatal stings. The purple and blue colours colours of a Portuguese man-O-war jellyfish are striking and when beached they can look like a deflating balloon with streamers or ribbons attached. However, beachgoers were warned that the stinging cells of the species remain active long after the creature itself has died, so any beached Portuguese man-O-war jellyfish should be left well alone. Read more here.
Warming Seas Could Kill Off Juvenile Lobsters: Research by an American university suggested that warming seas could have a catastrophic impact on lobsters in the USA and the wider world, with the continuation of the entire species being potentially put at risk. The University of Maine Darling Marine Center found that relatively small increases in sea temperature of just five degrees had a devastating impact on the number of juvenile lobsters which survived in waters off the north east coast of the USA. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Science predicts that global sea temperatures will have gone up by this amount by the year 2100, meaning the future looks bleak for lobsters unless changes are made to limit the warming of the world’s seas and oceans. Read more by clicking here.
Tope Trapped in Tidal Pool: A tope believed to be 5 to 6ft long was seen trapped in a shallow tidal pool on the Norfolk coast this month. The shark species had been trapped by the outgoing tide and was swimming in just a few feet of water when it was observed by a number of people who also filmed the shark before it was freed when the tide came back in. Watch a video of the tope here.
Clothes Wash and Microfibres: The issue of microplastics and micofibres contributing to marine pollution has been all over the news recently, and there is significant legislation being put in place to deal with these issues. However, researchers from the University of Plymouth have found that microfibres released from acrylic clothing can be a major contributor to marine pollution. It was discovered that a single clothes wash can release 700,000 microfibres from acrylic clothes into the environment, with the long term impact this has on marine species and ultimately the human food chain yet to be established. The researchers called for further work to establish how microfibers were released from clothes and what could be done to limit their impact. Read the full Guardian article on this story here.
More MCZs for the UK?: Conservationists this month called for the amount of MCZs (Marine Conservation Zones) around the UK to be almost doubled to create an “ecologically coherent network” where marine animals and environments could flourish. While fifty MCZs have been established in two tranches around the coastline of England and Wales this is far fewer than were originally envisaged, and the Wildlife Trust are pushing the government to establish another forty-eight when the third and final tranche is announced within the next two years. The current plans for MCZs around England and Wales have been heavily criticised by people such as the eminent marine biologist Prof. Callum Roberts as it is still not clear what protection the marine environment inside them will be afforded, and commercial fishing may still be allowed to take place within some MCZs. Read the full article on the Guardian website by clicking here.
Public and Shark Conservation: An opinion piece in the Guardian this month asked if the public can be convinced of the need provide conservation measures for sharks. Many species of sharks are endangered and sharks are hunted relentlessly on a commercial basis (around 100 million a year are killed by humans) but it is often difficult to gain support for conservation measures due to sharks reputation as a fearsome predator. In an attempt to change this the UK’s first ever shark festival took place in Bristol on Septmber 24th. Read more about this by clicking here.
Blue Sharks Photographed: Amazing photographs of blue sharks were taken off the coast of Cornwall this month. Diver Seed Rashid took the photos around ten miles out to sea when he and his fellow divers spotted the sharks. See the photos on the Sun’s website by clicking here.