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.
April 2017 News
Angler Catches Huge Sixgill Shark Off Coast of Ireland: A British angler fishing in Irish waters has caught a 1,500lbs sixgill shark – potentially the largest ever fish caught on rod and line in European waters. Ben Bond, a 26-year-old builder, caught the shark in an area known as Loop Head off the coast of County Clare and took around nintey minutes to reel the shark to the side of the boat. At an estimated 25ft long it would have been impossible to bring the shark onto the 40ft craft, so it was photographed and released without being taken out of the water with the weight being calculated from the dimensions of the shark. Sixgill sharks are a rare deep sea species which are occasionally found in British and Irish waters. Read more and see pictures of this on the BBC website by clicking here.
Great Barrier Reef ‘Damaged Beyond Repair’: Scientists said this month that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is now too damaged to be saved, in its current form at least. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest structure in the world made by living organisms and stretches for over a thousand miles off the north east coast of Australia. However, the reef has been suffering from high levels of coral bleaching in recent years. This is a process whereby healthy coral – which relies on the presence of algae – expels the algae and become pale, weak and susceptible to disease and, as a result, and usually dies soon after. While the reef had been showing signs of recovery in recent years a 2016 outbreak may have caused a quarter of the coral in the reef to become bleached, fundamentally, and possibly irreversibly, changing the nature of the reef. Coral bleaching is caused by warming sea temperatures, meaning that only by reducing global warming will coral bleaching be reduced. Many scientists now believe that it may be a case of preserving the ecological function that the reef carries out, as it may already be too late to save the Great Barrier Reef itself. Click here to read more.
Call for Old Oil Rigs to be Used as Artificial Reefs: Conservationists have called for old oil rigs in the North Sea to be left in place to create artificial reefs for wildlife. The savings from not having to dispose of the rigs could also be used to fund the protection of sea life. The Scottish Wildlife Trust made the call, pointing out that it costs hundreds of millions of pounds for an oil rig to be removed from the sea, but little over ten million for an oil rig to be made safe and left in place. The trust said that money saved by the ‘rigs to reefs’ idea could be used for policing protected marine zones, removing plastic pollution from the seas or funding marine research. Read more by clicking here.
‘Faceless Fish’ Rediscovered: A fish which appears to have no face has been caught by scientists off the coast of Australia, well over a century since it was last caught by humans. The 40cm long fish was caught by the Australian research vessel Investigator off the eastern coast of the country. The last time this species was caught was in 1837 when a British ship caught one off the coast of Papa New Guinea. The fish – which does not appear to have been given a species name yet – looks faceless as its mouth is on its underside and they eyes and gills are not visible from the front of the fish. The fish was caught as part of a month long research trip, with the scientists on board Investigator saying that as many as one third of the species they have caught are new to science. However, they also stated that “amazing” levels of rubbish were being brought on board including tins of paint and plastic piping. Read more and see pictures of the fish by clicking here.
Jumping the Shark: A 73-year-old Australian man was injured when a ten foot long great white shark inexplicably jumped into his small boat when he was fishing for snapper off the coast of New South Wales. The shark struck the man as it jumped into the boat, knocking him off his feet and injuring his arm. The man was able to get away from the shark and call local marine rescue volunteers who collected the man took him to shore before returning for his boat and the shark. Unfortunately the shark died as there was no way of getting the 440lb creature back into the water and a forklift truck was needed to remove it from the boat once they were back at port. The shark was however taken away for scientific analysis. Read more and see pictures here.
Surfers’ Campaign to Cut Shark Culls: A new campaign has been set up by surfers in Australia to prevent sharks from being culled. The Fin for a Fin campaign allows surfers to fit a specially designed fin to their surf boards. If they are killed by a shark while surfing the fin shows that they do not want the shark to be killed in retaliation. The campaign is currently in the crowd-funding stage and has the support of several surfers who have lost limbs to shark attacks. All profits made from the sale of the special fins will be donated to shark charities. Read more here.
Twenty Years to Save the Oceans?: An article in the Guardian by Jeremy Jackson, a prominent marine ecologist based in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, has warned that time is running out to save the world’s seas and oceans. Dr Jackson says that the oceans have been pushed past the limit, pointing to issues such as overfishing, warming seas and rising sea levels, dead zones (areas of sea starved of oxygen) and coastal pollution as key factors why the world’s marine environment is in such as bad state. In his list of ways to resolve this situation Jackson states that governments should stop paying out subsidies to the commercial fishing industry. Currently 80% of the world’s commercial fishing fleet make zero profit or run at a loss and rely on £27 billion of annual subsidies to exist. Jackson says that removing these subsidies would instantly reduce commercial fishing by almost two thirds, and relatively few jobs would be lost as most fishing is carried out by subsistence fishermen who do not receive subsidies. Creating marine protected zones is also critically important as they provide refuges for species to grow and breed, although currently only around 3% of the world’s ocean is protected, with around 1% closed to fishing. Jackson also points out that warming seas will change the behaviour and distribution of fish across the world, and rising sea levels could displace the millions of people who live less than five metres above sea level across the world. In the article Jackson points out that progress is being made (banning deep sea trawling in EU waters, protected zones, barriers to protect against storm surges) but progress is dangerously slow. He states that we have at most twenty years to act to save the oceans. Read the full article here.
Conflict Over Stingray Catch: A scuffle broke out at a Florida beach after a man caught a huge stingray and began dragging it across the beach. In the 90-second video a man is seen pulling a 300lb roughtail stingray across the sand and through shallow water with a heavy rope. Another man with a fishing rod is standing nearby. A group of mostly young people gather around the man and then attempt to drag the stringray back into the sea. The situation escalates until a man (who is either a policeman or security officer) arrives on the scene and tells the crowd to disperse. The Daily Mail have reported that the conflict arose over a misunderstanding over the species of ray – manta rays are protected and must be released, while stingrays can be retained. However, it is more likely that the people in the video simply did not like seeing a creature treated in such a way, and were attempting to release the creature themselves. Despite his questionable treatment of the stingray, the man in the video was doing nothing wrong from a legal point of view. It is currently unknown what happened to the stingray after the video ends. The incident raises important questions over how anglers treat fish which they catch and shows that public opinion can swiftly turn against anglers if they are seen to be treating fish in a cruel way. Read more and see the video by clicking here.
Research on Rays Released from Trawlers: Research carried out in Australia has found that pregnant rays which were caught and then released by trawlers gave birth to offspring which were smaller and lighter than those from untrawled mothers. Rays are particularly vulnerable to being inadvertently caught by trawlers, and the research aimed to find out what impact being caught and released had on the health of the pregnant rays and their young. Pregnant southern fiddler rays (Trygonorrhina dumerilii) – a species broadly similar in size and behaviour to UK ray species – were caught and placed into a large tank. A current was generated which pushed the rays into a static net to simulate the effects of trawling and then the rays were removed from the water before being returned to recreate the effects of being caught and released. A control group of pregnant rays was also used which did not have the trawling recreation process carried out on them. When the rays gave birth the offspring from the two groups was compared. The young of the trawled group were 12% shorter and 27% lighter than those from the untrawled group, while the mothers also showed signs of stress and a lighter body weight than the untrawled rays. The research is important as it shows that even catch and release fishing can have an impact on the health fish and if it is affecting the young it could have significant consequences for the future of the species. While this research was focused on commercial fishing it may also be relevant to rod and line fishing, with little research existing on the ways in which catch and release recreational fishing affects the medium to long term health of fish. Read more here.
Plastic Pollution in the News: Once again the impact that plastic pollution is having on the world’s seas and oceans has been a major topic in the news. Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands, is located in the Pacific Ocean. It is uninhabited and almost totally untouched by humans, with researchers believing that its remoteness would afford it some protection from plastic pollution. However, a research trip by scientists from the University of Tasmania and the RSPB found an estimated 38 million pieces of pollution weighing around eighteen tons on the island, with the vast majority being plastic. The researchers reported that much of the plastic was invisible to the naked eye, being buried up to ten centimetres under the ground, with the impact on the local wildlife already being apparent – hermit crabs were using bottle caps and jars for their homes instead of a discarded shell. The findings show that plastic pollution is now so widespread that even remote areas are being impacted. Read more on this here. Following this the Guardian ran a longer article looking at the issue of plastic pollution across the world, calling the issue a ‘toxic timebomb’. The article pointed out that as much as twelve million tons of plastic enters the world’s seas and oceans every year, and plastic doesn’t disappear but only breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic pollution can be swept through hundreds of miles of sea and leak chemicals which contaminate sea water. Furthermore the long-term consequences of humans eating sea creatures which have consumed plastic pollution have yet to be full investigated or understood. Read this article by clicking here. The Guardian also called for clothes manufacturers to do more to stop microfibers from polluting the world’s oceans. There has been concern that man-made fibres such as acrylic and polyester are damaging to marine ecosystems. Thousands of these fibres are released every time certain types of clothes are washed and once they enter the water and sewage system they eventually find their way into the sea. Once there they can be consumed by fish and other filter-feeding marine creatures. A €1.2 million project by a coalition of European textile researchers and scientists has found that little has been done by manufacturers to establish how many fibres their clothes release when they are washed, or what can be done to reduce the loss of fibres. There are a number of initiatives which may lead to a reduction of this problem. Coatings on clothing may reduce fibre loss, new detergents may also help, and inventions such as the Cora Ball (a device which is put into the wash to trap fibres) and Guppy Friend (a mesh bag which clothes are washed in) also help to reduce the amount of fibres lost when clothes are washed. Until these ideas are put into practice the amount of microfibers shed by clothes will continue to add to the total amount of plastic pollution entering the sea. Read more on this story here. In better news it was announced that the Ellen MacArthur foundation was launched a $2million prize to clean up plastic pollution of the world’s oceans. The foundation was set up by Dame Ellen MacArthur, the English yachtswoman who gained international renown for breaking the record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the world in 2005. The foundation will give out two separate $1million prizes – one for designing small plastic products such as coffee cups, plastic lids and packets which are easier to recycle and one for scientists who manage to design plastic materials which are easier to recycle than current products. Currently only 14% of plastic is recycled and at current trends there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s seas and oceans by the year 2050. Read more on this by clicking here.
Pub Chain to Reduce Plastic Straws Due to Marine Pollution: The boss of a UK pub chain has vowed to reduce the amount of plastic straws used by his company after watching a YouTube video which showed a turtle struggling in immense pain as a straw was removed from its nostril. The YouTube video – which can be viewed here but contains graphic scenes and strong language – had such an effect on Peter Borg-Neil that customers at his Oakman Inns chain of pubs and restaurants will no longer automatically receive a straw with their drinks, but will instead have to specifically ask for one. It is believed that this will significantly reduce the amount of straws which are used in the chain. Biodegradable alternatives to plastic straws are also being developed, although at the minute they are more expensive then plastic straws and less popular with consumers. Other companies, such as the burger restaurant chain MEATliqour, have also banned plastic straws and drinks giant Bacardi have ran a campaign to reduce plastic straw usage. Plastic straws are a major cause of marine pollution as they take many years to break down and a huge amount find their way into the world’s seas and oceans causing damage to fish, turtles and other marine creatures. They are seen as an avoidable source of marine pollution as many people simply used a straw out of habit and could happily go without using a straw. It is estimated that as many as 500,000 plastic drinks straws are used every single day in the USA alone. Read more on this story by clicking here. The BBC also ran an article which called for a tax on plastic drinking straws to reduce the usage of this environmentally damaging product. Waste management firm Business Waste made the call, claiming that plastic straws were unnecessary and the “ultimate in human wastefulness” and should be replaced with biodegradable paper straws. Read this article here.
Whales Die Off Suffolk Coast: A number of whales have washed up on the Suffolk coast this month, leading to confusion over whether or not the deaths were linked. A nine metre long minke whale was found in a decomposed state on a mud bank on the River Ore on the afternoon of Saturday 20th May. This was followed by another adult whale found nearby on the Essex coastline, leading to fears that they may have been part of a much larger group which now may all be in trouble of becoming stranded across the coastline. On Monday 22nd May a third whale was found floating dead off the Suffolk coast. However, scientists from the Cetaceans Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) who are investigating the deaths do not believe that the three deaths are linked and believe that the first whale found on the River Ore mud bank may in fact be a fin whale, while the third is probably a sperm whale. This has allayed fears that a whole pod of minke whales are in trouble, with CSIP believing that the spate of deaths in such close proximity is coincidental. Click here to read more on this story.
Sperm Whale Dies in Scottish Cove: In other whale-related news a sperm whale died after getting itself stuck in a remote Scottish cove. The whale – which was believed to weigh as much as fifty-five tons – worked its way into the cove in the Shetland Islands but became trapped and sadly died. As the cove is at the bottom of forty metre high cliffs it is impossible to ascertain the cause of death or remove the whale, which will now become food for other marine creatures. Read more here.
Girl Pulled From Dock By Sea Lion: A girl in Vancouver, Canada was pulled into the sea by a Californian sea lion in footage which went viral this month. Witnesses said that the sea lion had been attracted by people throwing bread into the water at Stevenson Fisherman’s Wharf, Vancouver, and appeared to be comfortable being next to humans. However, when the girl sat on the dock with her back to the water the sea lion launched itself out of the water and grabbed the girls dress in its mouth and pulled her into the sea. A man quickly jumped in after the girl and as the sea lion released its grip she was quickly rescued and back on dry land. The girl was reported as being physically unharmed in the incident. Prof Andrew Trites of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the University of British Columbia told the Guardian that most obvious explanation was that the sea lion believed the girl’s dress was food and jumped out of the water to try and get it. He warned that Californian sea lions, which are found all along the west coast of the USA and Canada are wild animals which are not trained to be next to people and should not be fed by humans. The species can reach lengths of 9ft and weigh over sixty stone. Read more and see the video on YouTube here.
Call for Angling to be Allowed in German MPAs: The European Anglers’ Alliance (EEA) has called for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to allow angling to continue in the countries Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Around 2000 sites have been designated as MPAs within Germany’s territorial waters in the Baltic Sea and North Sea, with the German Environment Agency seeking to ban angling in all of them. However, the EEA has called for angling to be allowed in them, pointing out that an impact assessment on angling within the zones has not been made public, possibly because it did not find any evidence that angling harmed the fish or environment within the MPAs. The EEA pointed out that angling was low impact, provided a form of sustainable economic activity and anglers could also work to monitor the MPA’s at no cost to the German government. They also pointed out that in the USA angling was banned in only a tiny proportion of that country’s MPAs. With the number of MPAs around the UK set to expand, and a debate continuing about exactly what commercial and recreational fishing should be allowed inside of them, British anglers will be looking closely at what happens to German Marine Protected Areas. Read more on this story by clicking here.
Sushi Chef Video Sparks Online Fury: A video of a sushi chef killing a turbot in a Manchester restaurant has sparked online fury, with many people seeing the treatment of the fish as being cruel. However, others have pointed out that the video merely shows part of the process of preparing and eating fish, and the fish was in fact killed in a humane manner. In the video the fish is killed using a traditional Japanese method known as the Ikejime technique. This involves cutting the backbone of the fish behind the head and at the tail and then inserting a wire into the fish to pierce the brain. Read more and watch the video by clicking here.
Conservative Manifesto Fishing Fears: With the campaigning for the general election in full swing all of the major parties have released their manifestos. However, the Conservative manifesto has caused concern for the fishing industry, as there is an unclear statement regarding what exactly will happen to Britain’s fishing grounds if the Conservatives win on June 8th. As a member of the European Union the UK only controls a twelve mile zone around the coastline of the UK with the rest of the UK’s waters being classed as a common resource between all EU members and the fishing quotas being shared between all member states. This means that British fishermen catch less than half of the fish in UK waters and any EU nation with a fishing fleet has the right to fish in UK waters up to twelve miles from the British coast. Non-EU nations such as Iceland and Norway control a 200-mile zone and EU vessels have no rights to fish in this area – correspondingly they have the healthiest fish stocks in Europe. Many commercial fishermen (and anglers) believed that by leaving the EU Britain would be able to run its fisheries in a similar manner to Iceland and Norway, explaining why the commercial fishing industry was overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU. However, since the referendum the Conservative government has offered little assurances to the fishing community that Britain will take back control of its fishing grounds, and there are fears that the current system of allowing EU nations to fish in British waters will continue in return for lower trade tariffs with the EU, access to the EU single market or something similar. The statement in the manifesto reads:
“Will be fully responsible for the access and management of the waters where we have historically exercised sovereign control.”
Many have read this as meaning that the UK will only continue to control the twelve mile zone, sparking fear and concern that once again UK fisheries are being sacrificed for other aspects of EU membership. However, Owen Paterson, the Conservative MP and former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, himself a prominent supporter of Brexit, has welcomed the statement in the manifesto, interpreting it as the Conservative party committing itself to the UK taking back control of the 200 mile zone. It may well be the case that the Conservative party have made the phrasing of its post-Brexit fishing plans intentionally vague to leave themselves as much room for maneuver as possible in the Brexit negotiations. Read more on this story by clicking here.
Great White Shark Killed by Orcas: Many people believe that great white sharks are the ocean’s apex predator but orcas (killer whales) have proven this is not the case. Orcas have been spotted attacking great white sharks in the past but a large great white shark carcass which washed up on a South African beach has confirmed that orcas were responsible for the death of the shark. Amazingly the great white shark was 16 feet long and weighed 2,500lbs, but the orca attack clearly proved too much for the predator, which had its liver and heart eaten by the orcas. Read more and see pictures here.
Swarm of Jellyfish Washes up on Welsh Beaches: A large number of barrel jellyfish has washed up across a number Welsh beaches such as Tenby, New Quay and Newport. Most of the jellyfish which washed up were barrel jellyfish, a species which can have a diameter of up to one metre. It is believed that mild winters and warm summers have allowed plankton – the main food source of the barrel jellyfish – to increase in number, bringing the jellyfish into shallow water. A change in tide or wind conditions can then easily strand large numbers of jellyfish on the beach. Read more and see pictures here.
Police Helicopter Warns Paddle-boarder of Shark Threat: A man on a paddle board was warned by a police helicopter that he was in the vicinity of fifteen great white sharks off the coast of Southern California. In the footage the helicopter crew tell the man via loudspeaker that he is near to the sharks and should “exit the water in a calm manner.” The area has been subject to a shark advisory warning after a woman was bitten by a shark at the end of April. Watch the dramatic footage on the BBC website by clicking here.
Hilsa, A Species Being Fished to Extinction: Hilsa (Tenualosa ilisha) is a species of herring which is hugely important in many Asian countries. It is the main ingredient of the national dish of Bangladesh and hundreds of thousands of people are involved in catching this species in countries such as West Bengal, parts of India, Bangladesh, West Bengal and Myanmar (also known as Burma). Millions more employed in the wider processing, transport and supply chain. However, overfishing with highly effective purse seine nets have taken their toll on hilsa numbers, with this fish now becoming increasingly scarce in Asian waters. The average size of hilsa which are caught has also declined. While overfishing is seen as the main cause of the reduction of hilsa there are also significant problems with pollution and chemical run-off into the rivers which hilsa swim up to spawn. There are fears that a total collapse of this species would lead to serious economic and social problems as many of the people who catch this species are poor subsistence fishermen who have no other means of making an income. Click here to read more on this story.
Survey Finds 1.5million Marine Mammals in European Atlantic: A large scale survey carried out using ships and aircraft from nine countries has found that around a million and a half whales, porpoises and dolphins are present in the waters of the European Atlantic from Gibraltar to Norway. The survey was a collaboration between a number of different research bodies and found that common dolphins, striped dolphins and harbour porpoises were the most common species. Read more here.
Irish Beach Returns after Thirty-three Years: A beach on an Irish island has returned – thirty-three years after it was washed away by a storm. The sandy beach at Dooagh, Achill Island off the coast of County Mayo was washed away by a heavy storm in 1984, leaving only rocks and rockpools. However, in the last month a series of freak tides and weather conditions have deposited hundreds of tons of sand onto the rocks, restoring the beach to its former condition. Locals have reported that the new beach is already attracting increasing numbers of tourists. Read more and see pictures here.
Worldwide Internet Hunt for Man in Shark Photo: People across the world have been trying to identify a man pictured straddling a shark in a photo which has gone viral. The image shows a large dead shark in a boat with a rotund, naked man straddling the shark with a smiling expression on his face. Many people have taken against the image, stating it is disrespectful and akin to trophy hunting. Animal rights activists have also taken against the image with British wildlife TV presenter Anneka Svenska joining in the search to identify the man. While some high profile American celebrities – namely Florida Gators coach Jim McElwain and the founder of the Jimmy John’s sandwich chain Jimmy John Liautaud – have been accused of being the man in the photo both have denied it. Liautaud was seen as a likely candidate as he used to hunt big game in Africa, but now says that he has turned his back on the practice. Read more on this story and see the now-infamous picture by clicking here.
Update: US newspaper the Orlando Sentinel claims that it has identified the man in the photo. It is not Jim McElwain or Jimmy John Liautaud, but is a former New York City Police officer known only as ‘Shawn’ who lives in Upstate New York. The paper claims that the embarrassing photograph was taken nearly two years ago off the coast of Long Island and that Shawn was set to have a televised meeting with Jim McElwain to prove that McElwain was not the man in the photo. However, the paper states that the mysterious Shawn got cold feet and pulled out of the meeting at the last minute. Shawn now believes that shark conservationists and animal rights activists may be out to harm his to such an extent that he fears for his life. Read the article in the Orlando Sentiel by clicking here.
Boat Passengers Get Close Look at Basking Shark: A group on a boat trip off the coast of Cornwall got a very close look at a basking shark this month. The 25ft shark appeared to come to investigate their boat, allowing everyone on board the chance to get a very close look at the creature. Despite its immense size the basking shark is a species which is harmless to humans as it is a filter feeder which only consumes plankton. Click here to read more.
UK Killer Whale Found to Have High Levels of Pollution in Body: The UK has a small population of resident killer whales off the west coast of Scotland. However, pod of nine killer whales was reduced to eight last year when Lulu, a female killer whale was found dead in commercial fishing ropes. Analysis has now been carried out on Lulu and it has been found that extremely high levels of pollution were present in her body when she died. The main source of pollution was PCBs – chemicals which were banned in the 1970s due to the damage they cause to the environment. However, PCBs are extremely long lasting and it was found that Lulu had PCBs in her body which were around twenty times higher than the safe levels for large marine mammals. Until they were banned PCBs were used in everything from paint, insulation and electrical products and it is estimated that there are around a million tons of products containing PCBs waiting to be disposed of in Europe. The process to safely eliminate PCBs is costly and complicated, as they must be heated to extremely high temperatures to be fully destroyed. The remaining killer whales off the UK coast are sadly and inevitably going to die out as they are all past the age of reproduction and are isolated from other killer whale pods. There are also now fears that the rest of the pod could be suffering from high levels of PCB contamination. Read more on the BBC website by clicking here. Following the news of Lulu’s death the Guardian ran an article looking at the threat which PCBs posed to the marine environment. The article says that marine mammals in UK waters show extremely high levels of PCBs in their bodies and the fact that Lulu never produced a calf may be down to PCBs. It also states that British waters, especially around the south west, should be the ideal environment for species such as great white sharks, but PCB contamination may be a reason why they are staying away. Click here to read the full article.
News Archive – 2017
News Archive – 2016
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News Archive – 2015
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- October 2015
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News Archive – 2014
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