April 2018 – News

New study seeks to confirm that Bluefin tuna have returned to UK waters: Many people are surprised to learn that tuna were once common in UK waters. Indeed, the British boat caught record fish is a tuna of 851lb caught out of Whitby in 1933. However, recent years have seen reports that tuna are returning to UK waters, with Bluefin tuna weighing hundreds of pounds caught off the coast of Wales last year by anglers who were aiming to catch shark. Now a new study by the University of Exeter and Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) aims to confirm that tuna have returned to British waters. The study will look at the migration and breeding patterns of Atlantic Bluefin tuna, seek to establish the areas where they are present off the British Isles, and also how tuna interact with both commercial and recreational fishers. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Europol stop criminal gang illegally exporting eels to Asia: Europol, the police force of the European Union, has stopped a major criminal operation to illegally export huge quantities of eels to Asia, an enterprise which could have made tens of millions of Euros for those behind it. Europol concentrates on tackling serious and organised crime across the EU, with the sums involved in illegal eel exporting meaning that this crime falls into this category. Europol said that ten people from China, Morocco and Spain were arrested and 1014lbs (459kg) of glass eels (the earliest stage of the eels life cycle) were recovered. Europol stated that this many glass eels could theoretically grow into almost 600 tons of silver eel which would be worth an incredible €400 million (£345 million). Silver eels are classed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and it is illegal to export European silver eels outside of the European Union. They are, however, a delicacy in China and much of Asia, meaning that criminal gangs are willing to risk illegally exporting this species due to the huge amounts of money which can be made. Click here to read more on this story.

Guardian opinion articles criticise post-Brexit fisheries plans: Different opinion articles in the Guardian have criticised UKIP, Nigel Farage and the UK’s plans for post-Brexit fishing. The first was by John Lichfield, a former EU correspondent who has also worked for the commercial fishing publication Fishing News as a freelance journalist. In his article he argues that “foreign” boats have a right to fish in UK waters as they have done for centuries, that the number of British fishermen has fallen because of the Cod Wars (despite the last ending in the mid-1970s) and says that it is the distribution and sale of quotas to British-flagged vessels which are really Dutch, Icelandic or Spanish which is one of the main reasons for the UK inshore fleet getting so little of the quota. The article goes extremely easy on the hugely damaging aspects of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy. He says that the high levels of discards demanded by the EU was “rightly excoriated” by the public but is now being “phased out,” with no mention that this has taken many years and the Spanish and French fishing industries have bitterly fought against it. Bizarrely, Lichfield utterly absolves other EU nations of any blame in quotas being set too high, stating that they are only set at unsustainable levels as the EU is “egged on” by “successive British governments.” Read the full article here. Another opinion piece by freelance journalist Fay Schopen was published in the Guardian this month. Despite happily stating that “there are better-informed people than me who can explain the ins and out of the common fisheries policy” Schopen has still went ahead and written about Brexit and fishing. Ostensibly writing about a protest by pro-Brexit group Fishing for Leave which took place in Whitstable this month Schopen spends most of the article making personal attacks on the clothing and appearance of Nigel Farage. The only analysis of the situation comes from repeating information from (and linking to) the article by John Lichfield. What the Guardian thinks it is achieving by publishing opinion articles like this by people who openly admit to having insufficient knowledge of the issues being discussed is anyone’s guess. Read the full article here. Finally, left-wing journalist Polly Toynbee wrote an opinion piece in the Guardian entitled “Propaganda Delivered the Brexit Vote but it Can’t Land More Fish.” In the article argues that British fishermen’s lack of quota is not because of the EU, but because large fishing companies have been able to sell their quota to foreign companies. While there may be some merit to argument that quota distribution is massively unfair Toynbee’s comes very much from the Guardian’s pro-EU, anti-Brexit perspective, and utterly fails to address the damaging aspects of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, or the fact that the only two European nations with plentiful fish stocks are Iceland and Norway, both of which refuse to join the EU as this would mean losing control over their well-managed fisheries. Read the article here.

Outcome of post-Brexit fishing will be decided by Brexit deal: Two articles published this month outlined how the right to fish in British waters will be decided by the outcome of the Brexit deal decided between Britain and the EU. An article published on the pro-Brexit website Westmonster claimed that Theresa May had offered Danish fishermen reciprocal access to British fishing waters, fuelling the ongoing concern that the fishing industry would be “screwed by politicians.” The website said that the UK fishing industry was being “traded away” and used as a “bargaining chip” in negotiations. Read the full article here. However, an article in the Telegraph said that the EU had warned the wider European fishing industry that they will have to seek permission from Britain to fish in UK waters in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario. This would come about if the EU and the UK were unable to agree on a post-Brexit trade deal and future trade happens under World Trade Organisation regulations. In this case the UK would take back full control of its fishing waters but there would be much higher tariffs to sell UK caught fish into the EU – something which many fishing organisations and fish processors want to avoid. Click here to read more on this story.

New virtual reality fishing game aims to be the most realistic yet: A new fishing game will utilise virtual reality technology to make the most realistic fishing game which has ever been released. MirageSoft’s Project VR Fishing will be compatible with Oculus Rift virtual reality technology and will feature freshwater fishing when it is first released, although future editions of the game may include sea fishing and other types of fishing. Read more and see a trailer for the game by clicking here. Similarly, the video game Far Cry 5 has received attention due to a fishing simulator which is built into the game as an additional extra. The main game is an open-world action adventure where the player must battle against a cult leader. However, the fishing simulator has been receiving attention as many people have been spending hours playing the fishing simulator, rather than the main game. Read more here.

Warning over impact Scottish salmon farms have on wild fish populations: The Scottish salmon farming industry is a multi-million pound business and a growing source of employment across the nation. However, recent years have seen the industry beset by problems such as infestations of sea lice and bad publicity over seals being shot to protect farmed salmon stocks. Now a new report by the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee has said that fish farms could seriously impact on the populations of wild fish, saying that fish farms have caused “unacceptable” levels of fish mortality in recent years, and the continuing expansion of fish farms may cause “irrecoverable damage to the environment.” Further controversy has arisen over the use of cleaner fish in Scottish fish farms. These are small fish which eat sea lice and other parasites off salmon. However, many Scottish fish farms use wrasse which are taken from the wild in huge numbers and then transported to fish farms to be used as cleaner fish. When they become too large for their intended purpose they are then disposed of. The report has stated that there need to be better understanding of the impact that fish farms have on the wider environment, and that further assessment and consideration of the industry is needed before fish farming is further expanded. Read more by clicking here.

Once again there has been a number of stories regarding the impact plastic pollution is having on the world’s seas and oceans:

  • Landmark ban on plastic announced by UK companies: Over forty companies have pledged to eliminate single use plastic by the year 2025 in a move which is being seen as a major step forward in eliminating plastic pollution. Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl, Asda, Waitrose, Coca-cola, PepsiCo, Unilever, Nestle and Marks & Spencer and others have all agreed to the pledge. The companies have all agreed to only allow plastic to be used in their products if it can be reused, recycled or is biodegradable. Unrecyclable black plastic trays for ready meals, plastic straws, cotton buds and crisp packets will all be affected by the ban, and it is also believed that retailers will trial an innovative scheme to reduce plastic consumption, such as allowing customers to bring in reusable bottles to fill up with washing up liquid or laundry detergent, rather than getting a new plastic bottle every time they buy the product. Read more and see the full list of companies which have signed up to the pledge by clicking here.
  • Plastic pollution found on ‘unspoilt’ Scottish beach: A tour operator has highlighted the level of plastic pollution found on a beach on the island of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, an area regarded for its once unspoilt marine environment. Shane Wasik, the founder of Basking Shark Scotland tours was taking people to a waterfall on the island when he found footballs, plastic containers and abandoned fishing gear, despite being more than thirty miles away from any populated areas. Wasik said that he was planning to raise fund to take a team to the island to clear up the rubbish. Click here to read more.
  • Decline in plastic bag pollution following 5p charge: The amount of plastic bags being dragged up by trawlers has reduced by around 30% since a 5p charge on carrier bags was introduced. While this news has been welcomed by conservationists and environmental campaigners it has been noted that the overall amount of rubbish found on the seabed has remained the same due to an increase in the amount of lost and abandoned fishing gear which has been found. Despite this the news that brining in a change has successfully reduced the number of plastic bags ending up as marine pollution will add weight for the calls for a charge on other forms of plastic and other measures to reduce plastic usage, such as a deposit scheme for plastic bottles. Read more here.
  • £60 million fund to help fight plastic pollution of the oceans: The government is to set up three separate funds which will total over £60million to fight plastic pollution in the seas and oceans. The move was announced by Theresa May prior to a meeting with Commonwealth leaders in London where she was set to discuss environmental issues. The government said that £25million would be used to investigate the use of plastic from a “scientific, economic and social perspective,” £20 million would be used to help developing countries reduce the amount of waste plastic they produce and stop plastic entering rivers and seas, and a £16.4 million fund would be used to improve plastic waste management in UK cities. An additional £5million may be made available through a government scheme which matches donations made by the public. Theresa May called on the leaders of other Commonwealth countries to follow the lead of the UK and actively take the measures the UK has to reduce plastic waste, such as banning microbeads and brining in a charge for plastic bags. Click here to read more.
  • British scientists inadvertently create enzyme which can consume plastic: Scientists have engineered an enzyme which has the ability to break down PET plastics, the type most commonly used to make plastic bottles and containers. The enzyme was accidentally created when scientists were looking at the ways in which plastic breaks down in waste recycling centres. PET plastics can remain in the environment for hundreds of years and it is hoped that this enzyme will be able to be developed further and eventually be used to attack plastic pollution in the seas and oceans. Read more here.
  • Prime Minister declares war on UK’s ‘throwaway culture’: Theresa May has apparently declared war on the UK’s culture of relying on single use items and will seek to ban plastic straws, cutlery, drink stirrers and cotton buds. The Environment Secretary Michael Gove had previously spoken of banning plastic straws, but May’s plans appear to go much further by adding a whole host of other items to the list of products which will be banned. Disposable cups, plastic bottles and plastic packaging are also likely to be subject to a tax to discourage their use. The government has stated that there is no reason why companies cannot use biodegradable alternatives such as wooden drinks stirrers and paper straws and cotton bud stems. However, companies will be given “sufficient time to adapt” meaning that a ban on single use plastic items is unlikely to come into force until well into next year. Read more on this story by clicking here.
  • Crisp packet from 1960s found on beach: A man taking part in a beach clean on a Scottish beach discovered a crisp packet from 1967 which was in remarkable condition. Neil McDonald was helping collect litter on Gullane beach in East Lothian this month when he found the crisp packet buried in sand. The text on the fifty-year-old packet of ready salted flavour Golden Wonder crisps was still perfectly legible and the colours had hardly faded. The packet of crisps was still priced in the pre-decimal currency of 4d, and marked as weighing 13 drams. The packet promoted a competition to win a Triumph Herald Estate car – a once-desirable two-door estate car which has not been manufactured since the early 1970s, as well as a prize of £50 of fishing gear. Finding a plastic crisp packet in such good condition underlines the long-lasting danger which plastic poses to the marine environment. Read more here.

2016 heatwave caused “mass mortality” of Great Barrier Reef coral: Up to 30% of the coral which makes up the Great Barrier Reef died in the nine-month marine heatwave which happened in 2016, scientists have found. The Great Barrier Reef is a system of thousands of individual interconnected coral reefs off the coast of Queensland, north east Australia. However, recent years have seen the Great Barrier Reef struck by coral bleaching – a process where warming sea temperatures cause the coral which makes up the reef expel the live algae which live inside them. Without the algae coral begin to turn white and die. Global warming and climate change is seen as a major cause of coral bleaching. Although coral can sometimes recover from bleaching as the sea temperature drops this has not been the case following the 2016 heatwave, and scientists have now confirmed that a huge proportion of the live coral of the reef was killed by the event. One scientist involved in the study stated that it would be “game over” for the Great Barrier Reef if global warming continued at its current rate. Read more here.

Hundreds of fish found dead in Caribbean ghost net: A huge ghost net has been found drifting through the waters of the Caribbean with hundreds of fish, and around thirty sharks, found trapped inside. Ghost nets are created when drift nets and gill nets are abandoned or lost by fishermen and become detached from their moorings and float through the sea. Marine life becomes trapped in the net and creates a bloody slick, which attracts more fish to the net which then become trapped themselves. The net was discovered by Dominick Martin-Mayes, a British marine biology graduate who is also a fisherman and diving instructor estimated that the net had floated for around one hundred miles through the sea before he found it. Authorities from the nearby Cayman Islands said that they would use aircraft to locate the net and either remove it from the sea or tow it to an area where it would not cause harm. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Killer whales spotted in River Clyde: A pod of killer whales were spotted swimming up the Clyde as far as the Eskine Bridge this month, although they then made their way safely back out to sea. The pod was believed to be made up of five adults and one juvenile whale, and were thought to have been following shoals of small fish and seals up the river. Many people are surprised to hear that killer whales are present in the waters of the UK, but they do indeed visit British waters, especially in the summer months. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Ocean going machine set to clean up marine litter: A new machine will be deployed to collect floating litter from the Pacific Ocean this month. Developed by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat when he was an 18-year-old student the device will consist of multiple 40ft sections of pipe which will have huge nylon sheets trailing from them. The sheets will catch plastic debris as it floats into them and then funnels the rubbish to a main tank which is emptied every month. Fish will be able to escape the nylon sheets by swimming underneath them. Eventually the aim is to have sixty devices, all around one mile long. Slat was inspired to create the invention when he saw plastic pollution in the sea when diving off the coast of Greece when he was sixteen years old. Now twenty-three years old, Slat raised over £1.5 million through crowd funding and has since raised an additional £28.5 million through other investors. This has allowed him to set up Ocean Cleanup as a not-for-profit company which now has sixty-five paid staff, including researchers and engineers. Read more here. However, Slat’s idea has previously faced criticism from a number of areas. It has been claimed that collecting plastic from the ocean much closer to shore is both more cost effective and more beneficial, and the high levels of publicity which Slat has attracted may take attention away from more effective clean up and conservation projects. Furthermore, it is widely accepted that stopping plastics from entering the ocean in the first place is the best way of preventing plastic pollution and damage to marine ecosystems, something which Slat’s plans do not address.

Fishing boat with 18 miles of illegal netting stopped in Antarctic waters: An illegal fishing boat has been stopped and found to have around 600 fishing nets on board which could be used to set around eighteen miles of illegal gill nets. Currently named STS-50 the vessel has been called Andrey Dolgov, Aida and Sea Breeze in the past, with the name of the vessel regularly being changed in an attempt to avoid detection by the authorities. Similarly, the vessel – which is officially stateless – has sailed under the flag of numerous different countries including Sierra Leone, Japan, Micronesia, Togo and Namibia. Chinese authorities had attempted to stop the 452-ton vessel but it managed to evade capture until the Indonesian navy, working on information supplied by Interpol, were able to stop and board the ship. The vessel was fishing for Patagonian toothfish, a species which is often renamed Chilean sea bass to make it more attractive to consumers. This species has been heavily overfished in past decades, with illegal and unreported fishing almost collapsing stocks of this species in Antarctic waters. Today the fishery is highly regulated but, as the actions of this vessel show, illegal fishing is still a major problem, especially when the nets used by this vessel would have caught a huge amount of bycatch including marine mammals and seabirds. The vessel had a mix of Russian and Indonesian crew, with the Indonesian navy saying that the Indonesians on board the STS-50 did not have any documentation and appeared to have been at sea without pay for a long time, indicating that they may have been victims of human trafficking and modern day slavery themselves. Read more here.

Surfers attacked by sharks off coast of Australia: Two surfers have been bitten by sharks off the coast of Western Australia. One man was taken to hospital where he was described as being in a stable condition, while the other was treated for minor injuries on the beach. The beaches were closed after the shark attacks and the carcass of a whale was found washed up on a nearby beach, possibly explaining why sharks had been attracted to the area. Fisheries officers in Western Australia are authorised to kill sharks which are deemed to be a serious threat to human life, a policy which is backed by many surfers by opposed by conservationists and members of the public who point out that it is only humans who choose to enter the sharks’ natural habitat who risk being attacked. Read more here.

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