April 2017 – News

Denmark to Challenge UK Over Fishing Waters: The fishing industry in the UK was almost completely in favour of leaving the European Union due to the damage that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has done to UK fish stocks. Indeed, many in the fishing industry hope that Britain will be able to run its own fishing waters in the same way that Iceland or Norway do – two nations have the most productive fisheries in Europe due to their non-membership of the EU and the ability to control their own fishing waters. However, other EU countries are already attempting to challenge Britain’s attempts to take back control of its fishing grounds. Around 40% of the commercial fishing done by Denmark takes place in UK waters, with the Guardian reporting that some Danish coastal communities are almost totally dependent on access to UK waters to remain viable. Denmark is claiming that it has historical fishing rights to fish in UK waters which go back to the 1400s, and is therefore claiming that even when the UK leaves the EU then Danish fishermen will still have the right to fish in British waters. The Guardian reported that Niels Wichmann, the chief executive of the Danish Fishermen’s Federation said that the UK’s claim to taking back its own waters was “nonsense.” Nigel Farage, the former leader of UKIP, has already said that taking back control of the UK’s territorial waters would be the “acid test” of the Brexit negotiations and it remains to be seen how fisheries fare in the forthcoming negotiations. Click here to read the full story on the Guardian’s website.

Multiple Large Porbeagle Sharks Caught Off South Coast: This month has seen an unusually high number of very large porbeagle sharks caught by boat anglers off the south west coast of England. The first was reported as being an 8ft long, 28 stone (392lbs) porbeagle caught just a quarter of a mile off the coast of St. Ives in Cornwall at the start of the month. The was followed by a 17 stone (238lbs) porbeagle shark caught off the coast of Hartland, Devon and a 9ft long, 36 stone (500lbs) porbeagle caught in the same area later in the month which took nearly two hours to reel in. All of the sharks were released after being caught and are therefore ineligible to be put forward as British rod caught records as the antiquated rules state that fish must be killed and weighted on dry land to be considered for a record – a disgraceful state of affairs in these conservation minded times. It is unknown why this spate of large porbeagle sharks has been caught this month, but warming sea temperatures are being seen as a possible reason, while a lack of food in the overfished Atlantic is also put forward as a reason.

The Cod Wars and Hull Today: The Cod Wars were a series of disputes between the United Kingdom and Iceland which took place between the late 1950s and the 1970s over fishing rights in Icelandic waters (read the full British Sea Fishing account of the Cod Wars by clicking here). The Hull Daily Mail asked this month if Hull would still have a thriving fishing industry if the cod wars never happened and sought the opinions of some of the fishermen who were involved in the conflict, as well as academics and writers. Read the full story on the Hull Daily Mail website by clicking here.

One Third of Global Fishing Could be Unreported: A study by Canada’s University of British Columbia (UBC) has found that as much of a third of global fishing could be going unreported. The United Nations calculates that across the world 81.2 million tons of fish were caught in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available. However, researchers at UBC claim that the true figure could be significantly higher as so much fishing around the world goes unreported, calculating that around 120 million tons of fish was taken from the world’s seas and oceans in 2015. The researchers say that the amount of fish being taken across the world each year is a sign of global overfishing and in many places fish stocks have been reduced to such an extent that a recovery many not be possible. Read more here.

China’s Insatiable Appetite for Fish: An article in the Huffington Post this month warned that the gigantic demand for fish in China will cause problems for the entire planets fish stocks. The article by Peter Neill, the director of the World Ocean Observatory, pointed out that China is the world’s largest consumer, producer and exporter of fish and has some 3,400 industrial fishing vessels fishing in the territorial waters of ninety nations, as well as in international waters. This means that China alone catches around fifteen million tons of fish each year and has seen a 50% decline in its own fish stocks as demand for fish in China has rocketed. However, as the article above mentions, statistics on catch levels are known to be under reported across the world, and there are fears that the true level of fish the Chinese fishing industry is catching may be much, much higher than that which is reported. In countries with no domestic fishing fleet China has purchased the exclusive right to fish in their territorial waters, and there is no realistic way to ascertain the level of fish the Chinese are catching in these areas. Furthermore, generous state subsidies for fuel and vessel building mean that it is economically viable for Chinese fishermen to fish in distant waters and bring back catches from around the globe to the Chinese market. The article concludes on a bleak note by saying that it may only be the collapse of the world’s fisheries which finally limits China’s global fishing fleet. Read the full article by clicking here.

Couple Carry Out Holiday Beach Clean: A couple who visited a north Wales beach gave up part of their holiday to clean up the plastic pollution they found. Ros and Tim Birch were visiting Hells Mouth Beach near Abersoch when the found levels of pollution and waste across the beach which they described as “shocking.” Mr. Birch said that the levels of pollution were worse than what he had seen in developing world countries he had visited during his time working for Greenpeace. Mr. and Mrs. Birch spent two days of their ten day break cleaning up the beach and then planned to return to the beach before their holiday ended. The local Gwynedd council said that there were regular beach cleans on the coast, and the west facing nature of the beach meant that rubbish dumped far out to sea was carried by tides and currents to the beach. Read more here.

Huge Shark Washes Up on Cornish Beach: A 25ft basking shark has washed up dead on a Cornish beach this month. The shark was spotted floating upside down off the coast of Chapel Point, Mevagissey in Cornwall. Volunteers from the Cornwall Wildlife Trust were sent to the scene to assess the shark. As most basking sharks die well out to sea this is a rare opportunity for researchers from Exeter and Plymouth Universities to study the carcass of the creature. Read more here.

Problem Solving Fish?: Fish are not currently seen as particularly intelligent creatures, but research carrier out at the University of St. Andrews may change that. The research looked at three-spined sticklebacks (Gasterosteus aculeatus) – a species which is present in British waters – and found the fish were able to combine their knowledge and experience when they were in a shoal. The study found that fish which had experience of seeking out hidden food moved to the front of a shoal in a leadership role when this was necessary, while those fish which had not carried out this task before dropped to the back of the shoal. The findings shed light on the ways fish operate when they form into a shoal and also suggest that fish behaviour may be more complex than we realise. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Last Killer Whale Born at SeaWorld: SeaWorld, the embattled marine theme park chain, has been radically changing the way in which it treats killer whales in recent years following the release of the film Blackfish. The 2013 film documented the way killer whales were treated in captivity and was successful in turning public opinion against SeaWorld, which has suffered from declining ticket sales and a falling share price since the film’s release. While it has long been unacceptable to take killer whales from the wild, SeaWorld has been actively breeding them in captivity. However, they announced in March 2016 that they would stop this process, and the final captive killer whale has now been born. Takara, a twenty-five year old killer whale at SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas (who was captive born herself) was already pregnant when SeaWorld made the announcement that it would stop its captive breeding programme, and therefore gave birth to the final captive born killer whale at any SeaWorld facility this month. The newborn killer whale had still not been named at the time of writing. Read more by clicking here.

Rare Shellfish Beds Devastated by Dredging: A rare flame shell reef off the Scottish coast has been devastated by commercial dredging. The reef is located off the coast of Plockton in the Scottish Highlands and consisted of rare flame shells which form into nests on the seabed, creating a reef which in turn attracts small fish, crustaceans, scallops and other marine life. The reef, which covered around one square kilometre had reportedly been devastated by a dredger. Although the commercial fishing vessel was operating legally the area had not been dredged for around fifteen years, and the fact that such a destructive fishing practice was allowed to take place so close to the shore and destroy such a valuable marine habitat is being seen as a major failing of inshore fisheries management. It is though that the reef will take at least a decade to recover, and sustainable scallop fishing which had been taking place in the area may now be in doubt. Read more on the BBC website here.

EU Rules ‘Ruining Fishing in the Thames’: A long-serving Conservative MP has claimed that EU regulations are damaging fishing in the Thames. Sir David Amiss, MP for Southend West, has said that Marine Protected Areas ban fishing in certain areas to protect fish stocks, but do nothing to prevent dredging for sand and gravel – processes which are seriously damaging to the marine habitat and fish stocks. Local fishermen have raised the issue of a reel on the south coast which is a breeding ground for bream – a species of fish which creates a nest and then defends it until the eggs hatch. The area was being left alone by the fishing industry to allow the fish to reproduce but a dredging company had applied for permission to dredge the seabed half a mile away, something which is allowed under current regulations. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Silver Eels Use ‘Magnetic Maps’ to Migrate: Silver eels have long been a mystery to scientists as it is unknown how baby eels which hatch in the Sargasso Sea near the Caribbean find their way across the Atlantic to European waters. However, scientists believe that they may have gone some way towards learning how eels manage to find their way across such a vast distance with the discovery that eels can sense magnetic fields and may use this to navigate across the ocean. Experiments have shown that eels are attracted to the magnetic fields and may use these to locate the Gulf Stream, the warm, fast moving currents which cross the Atlantic. Eels may then use the Gulf Stream to cross the Atlantic in the most efficient way possible. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Elvers Worth More Than Caviar: Last month we reported that a man had been arrested for allegedly trying to export 600,000 elvers (baby eels) worth around £1.2 million to Hong Kong. In order to protect eels – a species now classed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature – it is illegal to export silver eels outside of the European Union. Eels are seen as a delicacy in much of Asia, so the rewards for illegally exporting this species can be great. David Gregory-Kumar, the BBC’s Science, Environment and Rural Affairs correspondent reported on elver fishing in the UK, stating that a kilo of elvers in China could cost £6,000, making it more valuable than Beluga caviar. In his report he looked at how elvers are caught in UK rivers, with around 60% of the catch not being sold commercially but instead going to restock areas across Europe where silver eel populations have decline. Read the full report on the BBC website by clicking here.

Woman Saved When Husband Punches Shark: A woman who was attacked by a shark while swimming off the coast of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic was saved when her husband reportedly punched the shark in the head. Frankie Gonsalves, a social worker, was snorkelling when an unidentified species of shark bit her on her lower leg and foot. Her husband, Dean, then punched the shark, allowing Mrs. Gonsalves to scramble to safety on the shore. The couple were in Ascension Island for a one night stopover as they made their way back to the United Kingdom. Mrs. Gonsalves was taken to the island’s tiny hospital where it was reported she had suffered “severe damage” to her leg and foot. She was sent to be airlifted to London where she would require trauma care but it was hoped she would make a full recovery. Mr. Gonsalves only reported comment on the incident was: “Who would have known how hard a shark’s head is?” Read more here.

Irish Bass Research Uncovers New Findings: Research carried out on bass by the University of Ireland in Galway has revealed new information on the movement of this species which may aid conservation efforts. Researchers attached acoustic tags which have a battery life of over one year to bass which were caught in Cork Harbour over a period of three years. While it was already known that bass migrate to deeper water in the autumn and winter the tracking of the fish showed that most of the bass not only returned to the harbour the following spring but to the exact same location where they were originally caught and tagged. The fact that bass return to the exact same area every year means that they will be vulnerable to being “fished out” and overfishing may mean that an area can become completely devoid of bass. Bass numbers have been badly reduced by commercial overfishing in recent years and there is now considerable disagreement across Europe over exactly what needs to be done to restore bass stocks. UK anglers are currently required to fish for bass on a catch and release basis only from January to June in 2017, and then can only retain a single bass per angler per day for the rest of the year. Ireland has led the way with bass protection and as a result has had some of the best bass stocks (and highest income from anglers coming to fish for them) in Europe. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Mediterranean Fish Stocks Declining at an Alarming Rate: A study published in the internationally respected journal Nature has revealed that fish stocks and the overall biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea is declining at an alarming rate. Intensive overfishing means that 93% of fish stocks assessed in the Mediterranean are now classed as overexploited. Furthermore pollution, climate change, invasive species and marine litter were all making it harder for fish numbers to recover. The Mediterranean has lost 41% of its marine mammals and 34% of its total fish population since the 1960s with the Western Mediterranean and the Adriatic Sea the areas worst affected. Read more here.

Lionfish Found in Italian Waters: A highly invasive species of lionfish has been found in waters off the coast of Italy for the first time, sparking fears that the Mediterranean could face serious problems with the species. Lionfish are native to parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but have spread around the world – possibly due to people releasing them from home aquariums into the wild. They have proved extremely problematic off the south east coast of the USA, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Caribbean where they out-compete indigenous species for food and due to their venomous spines avoid being consumed by predatory species. They can also be a threat to humans as the venom is extremely potent and can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness and in extreme cases being stung by a lionfish spine can prove to be fatal. Lionfish can reproduce extremely quickly meaning that populations can rocket in number in a short period of time. With the Mediterranean already struggling with overfishing and declining biomass (see story above) the presence of lionfish is another major cause for concern. Click here to find out more.

Fishing Ropes a Threat to Scotland’s Humpback Whales: Having been absent from Scottish waters for many years there has been a small but increase in the number of sightings of humpback whales off the coast of Scotland in recnoticeableent years. There is, however, concern that this species may be threatened by becoming tangled in the ropes used in creel fishing – something which can also be a threat to fishermen as an entanglement can easily capsize a fishing boat. A new code of practice has been developed which tells fishermen how to avoid their fishing gear becoming entangled with a humpback whale and what to do if it happens. Read more here.

Australian Man’s Kayak Attacked by Shark: An Australian man had a lucky escape after his kayak was attacked by a shark and started to sink. The as yet unnamed 39-year-old was kayaking around eight kilometres (five miles) off the coast of Queensland when the shark bit off the back section of his kayak, causing it to start to sink. The man was located by aircraft coming in to land at Brisbane Airport and was eventually rescued by a water unit of Queensland Police. The man was said to be unharmed but shaken and his kayak – complete with bite mark out of the back – was recovered from the water. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Hastings Wins Pier of the Year Award: Hastings Pier, which almost burnt down in 2010, has won the national Pier of the Year Award, following a £14.2 million restoration project. The pier was built in 1872 and one of the first ‘pleasure piers’ in the country. During the Second World War a section of the pier was removed to stop it being used as a landing point for a potential invasion of the British mainland. In the 21st Century fell into disrepair and was almost destroyed in the 2010 fire. However, the community owned pier is now restored to its former glory and has won the prestigious award. Worthing Pier came second in the competition, and Llandudno Pier was third. Click here to read more.