April 2019 – News

Sark to be the first place to ban the capture of live wrasse: Sark in the Channel Isles is set to be the first place in British Isles to ban the capture of live wrasse for use as cleaner fish in fish farms. Fish farms, almost all of which are located in Scotland, have been beset with sea lice infections in recent years. Antibiotics have been used to rid commercially valuable salmon of parasites but their effectiveness is reducing due to over use. This has led to fish farms turning to so-called cleaner fish such as wrasse to eat parasites off the salmon. However, the taking of wrasse is unregulated and hundreds of thousands of individual wrasse have been trapped – mainly from the south west of England – and transported to Scotland to use as cleaner fish. Once wrasse grow too big to be of use to the fish farms they are destroyed. Anglers and conservation groups have reacted with dismay to the unregulated capture of live wrasse. Now Sark has become the first place to ban such captures of wrasse it is hope that much of the rest of the UK may follow and ban this practice. Click here to read more and watch a video of this on the BBC News website.

500lbs porbeagle shark caught off the coast of Cornwall: A huge porbeagle shark which was over 8ft in length and weighed over 500lbs was caught off the coast of Cornwall this month. The shark was caught by Dan Hawkins who runs Reel Deal Charters at an undisclosed location off the Cornish coast. A 250lb porbeagle had been caught by the same vessels just days earlier. Mr Hawkins said that the shark took hours to reel in and was thought to be in the area to feed on mackerel. Read more and see pictures of the shark by clicking here.

Fishing vessel owner fined for bass offences: The owner of a fishing vessel has been fined £6,000 according to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). Dean Rollaston, the owner of Top Dog, a four metre fishing vessel, appeared at Plymouth Magistrates Court in March where he plead guilty to five charges of breaching his fishing licence conditions. The MMO state that he had used hooks and lines to catch 3645kg (8035lbs) of bass between 1st November 2017 and 31st January 2018 when he was only licenced to use gill nets, trawls and seine nets. Mr Rollaston was caught after a routine inspection by MMO officers and stated that he mistakenly believed he was allowed to catch bass with hooks and lines. Read more on the gov.uk website by clicking here.

One of UK’s largest trawlers named on Thames: A number of UK newspapers reported on one of the UK’s largest ever fishing vessels having its official naming ceremony on the Thames this month, with several also connecting the trawler to Brexit. The Kirkella – a 4,100 ton, 81-metre long freezer trawler – sailed up the Thames on Tuesday 24th April where it was officially named by Princess Anne, although the vessel has already been in service for some months. Tower Bridge was raised to allow the Kirkella to pass through, and 3000 free portions of fish and chips were handed out to people gathering to watch the vessel to pass by. The Kirkella is a whitefish trawler which will target cod and haddock in the north east Atlantic. It is capable of catching 2.3 million individual fish on every two month voyage, and uses a continuous mechanised process to fillet and freeze the fish it catches on board. The Kirkella will reportedly supply 12% of the fish sold in Britain’s fish and chip shops. While the Kirkella is a British ship and will use Hull as its home port it was made in Turkey and is its owner, UK Fisheries Ltd is co-owned by Icelandic company Samherji hf and the company Dutch Parlevliet en van der Plas. Various newspapers reported on the Kirkella. Despite simultaneously covering environment related issues (such as the recent climate change demonstrations in London in depth and the UK visit of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg) the Guardian did not mention the impact that the Kirkella would have on fish stocks or the marine environment. Instead, the newspaper stated that the Kirkella sailed up the Thames to “highlight the threats facing the fishing industry if Brexit negotiations fail to deliver a deal.” The paper stated that this was because the UK would have no automatic access to the Northern External Waters it was designed to fish in following a no deal Brexit. Many readers may be puzzled as to why the Guardian, a paper which sees itself as leading on environmental and conservation issues, taken such a positive view of a vessel which is capable to catching such huge amounts of fish while only employing around thirty crew members. The Times took a more circumspect view saying that the Kirkella looked “bound for an uncertain future. The paper pointed out that the Kirkella was one of only a “handful” of British vessels which catch cod and haddock in the waters of Greenland, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands via a deal struck with the EU, with the paper stating that “questions remained” about access to these waters when Britain leaves the EU. The BBC also ran a positive article and video about the Kirkella. The size of the vessel and the fact that it has a gym and cinema on board for the crew to use were mentioned, but nothing was made of the huge and unsustainable number of fish the vessel can catch.

Scotland’s wild salmon at ‘lowest ever levels’: Catches of wild salmon are at the lowest levels ever recorded, meaning stocks were at “crisis point” according to Fisheries Management Scotland. Just over 37,000 salmon were rod-caught in 2018, which was just 67% of the previous five-year average total. Environmental campaigners have claimed that the huge growth in Scottish fish farms which raise salmon are responsible for the falling number of wild catches, as parasites and diseased salmon which escape from fish farms harm wild stocks. The Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said that many of the factors affecting salmon were “outwith our control” and said that a major factor had been the “unprecedented water shortages Scotland experienced last summer.” Read more on this story by clicking here.

New data chain technology could eliminate seafood mislabelling: A new type of technology could make it possible to track seafood from point-of-capture to plate. Based on the blockchain technology which underpins cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, a pilot study started in June 2017 and back by the World Wildlife Fund has been successful in showing the geolocation of where fish were caught and allowing access to inspection certificated which show that the fish have been caught sustainably. While details on exactly how this will work remain vague it is believed that radio frequency identification tags and 2D barcodes will be used to provide consumers instant identification of the fish they are buying through a smartphone application. The technology could help illuminate illegally caught fish and fish which have been caught using environmentally damaging methods. Furthermore it would prevent fish caught with slave labour from ending up in the food chain. Read more on the BBC website by clicking here.

MEPs confirm pulse fishing ban: The European Parliament has confirmed that pulse trawling – the controversial commercial fishing method which uses electricity to shock fish from the seabed – will be banned from mid-2021. Despite EU rules banning fishing with electricity (along with poison and explosives) pulse trawling has been allowed to expand since 2006 due to a loophole which allows it to take place on an experimental basis. Pulse trawling uses electric shocks to stun fish out of the seabed. It is attractive to commercial fishermen as the gear used is much lighter than traditional beam trawling, meaning much lower fuel costs. There are also claims that it causes less damage to the seabed and pulse trawls catch fewer non-target species. However, there are concerns over the damage that pulse trawling causes to other creatures which live in the seabed and little research has been carried out into the medium and long term effects of pulse trawling. The Dutch fishing industry has been the biggest proponent of pulse trawling, and almost all of the vessels which have been converted into pulse trawlers are Dutch. With many fishermen having spent hundreds of thousands of Euros equipping their vessels to carry out pulse trawling the Dutch fishing industry has fought hard to avoid the practice being banned. As well as the formal lobbying and campaigning the Dutch have resorted to increasingly desperate measures to try and avoid a pulse trawling ban. This included hanging a full sized pulse trawl net outside of the European parliament while a Dutch folk singer performed pro-pulse trawling songs in a last-ditch attempt to convince lawmakers to allow the continuation of pulse trawling in European waters. This has, however, failed and MEPs confirmed on April 16th that the pulse trawling ban will be phased in over the next two years. Click here to read more.

Whale fitted with harness believed to be trained by Russian military: A beluga whale which may have been trained by the Russian navy has been found by Norwegian fishermen. Joar Hesten was fishing out of the small village of Inga when a white beluga whale fitted with a harness began “harassing” his fishing boats. The whale was actively seeking out Hesten and his colleagues fishing boats and was actively trying to pull ropes and strapping from the sides of the vessels. The harness, which could have housed a camera or a weapon, was removed from the whale and found to be stamped with the words ‘Equipment of St. Petersburg.’ Hesten told the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK that the whale appeared to be used to being around people. Martin Biuw of Norway’s Institute of Marine Research said that there was “great reason” to believe that the whale was trained by the Russian navy. Both the Soviet Union and the US Navy have had programmes to train marine mammals since the 1960s. Seals, bottle-nosed dolphins and beluga whales can all be trained to seek out mines and explosives, locate people in sunken ships and carry tools for divers. While the Russian navy was believed to have abandoned its marine mammal training programme in the 1980s there is recent evidence that it may have been reinstated. A report from 2017 stated that Russia had begun training marine mammals for military purposes in its military bases which have recently re-opened along the Russian arctic coastline. Government records also show that the Russian government purchased five bottle-nosed dolphins from Moscow Dolphinarium at a cost of £18,000 in 2016. Read more on the Guardian website by clicking here.

Probe into fish research allegedly complied with fabricated data: A marine biologist has been “unmasked as a fraudster” and then “gone to ground” after a probe was launched into her marine biology research due to allegations about the use of fabricated data. The Times Higher Education report that Dr Oona Lönnstedt, who is originally from Sweden, completed a degree and then a PhD at James Cook University in Australia, and then had twenty research papers published in the field of marine biology. However, in 2016 allegations of misconduct and data fabrication in Dr Lönnstedt’s work emerged. It is claimed that a high profile research paper which found that Baltic perch were feeding on plastic which then affected their ability to avoid predators relied on experiments which were conducted when Dr Lönnstedt was not at her research station and contained fabricated results. It was not possible to review the data the research was based on as Dr Lönnstedt said that the only copy had been lost when a laptop was stolen from her car. Another research paper which purported to show pictures of dozens of lionfish she had caught included images of fish which had been digitally manipulated and duplicated images of the same fish. In March 2018 it was decided that a full investigation was warranted. The investigation has yet to take place but an external panel which will look into Lönnstedt’s research has been assembled and includes “eminent” academics, experts on marine biology and research ethics and a former federal judge. Dr Lönnstedt left James Cook University and subsequently gained a position at Uppsala University in her native Sweden based on her research career and qualifications, although she has no also left this position. The Times Higher Education stated that Dr Lönnstedt does not respond to enquiries from journalists. Read more on the Times Higher Education website here (£).

Newly uncovered data charts the rise of plastic in the oceans: Research from a long-running study has been released showing how ocean plastic has risen from a minor problem to a major global issue over the decades. Data has been collected since the 1950s by scientists using a continuous plankton recorder – a device which gathers pelagic plankton to gauge water quality. However, the scientists running the study also kept a record of times the device was entangled in materials which stopped it from functioning properly. This began in the 1950s when fishing twine became ensnared in the equipment, and the first plastic carrier bag was encountered in 1965. In the first uses of the continuous plankton recorder in the 1950s and 1960s there were very few times that plastic interfered with the running of the study, but now plastic is encountered 3 – 4% of times the device is used. The findings, which were published in the peer-reviewed open source academic journal Nature Communications are seen as key evidence that plastic pollution has increased exponentially in recent years and were reported in the Guardian. Click here to read more on this story.

Report highlights huge number of small fish caught to supply fish farms: A report issued by two campaign groups has drawn attention to the massive numbers of small fish which are caught to supply feed to fish farms. Until the Seas Run Dry was compiled by campaign groups Changing Markets Foundation and Compassion in World Farming. It states that ‘reduction fisheries’ are a multi-billion pound business which catch small wild fish species and then process them into fish meal and fish oil (FMFO) which is then sold to fish farms to feed commercially valuable species such as salmon. With roughly half of world fish consumption coming from farmed fish the reduction fisheries supplying FMFO are continuing to expand. The report states that while reduction fisheries claim commitment to sustainability and transparency they disclose very little information about their catch levels or the area where fish for FMFO are caught. The rapid growth and continued expansion of reduction fisheries therefore leads to major concerns around overfishing and food security as huge numbers of fish which could be eaten by humans are instead turned into fishmeal to produce and feed a much smaller amount of commercially valuable fish. Read the report by clicking here.

WWF highlights porpoise deaths in UK waters: The World Wildlife Fund has said that around one thousands harbour porpoises are being needlessly killed in British waters each year. The main cause of death was suffocation after being trapped in commercial fishing nets. Gill nets – static walls of nets which catch fish by the gills – were responsible for most of the deaths according to the organisation, with the south east and south west of England, along with the waters of the Shetland Islands in Scotland, being the areas where most porpoises were killed. The UK is home to an estimated 177,000 harbour porpoises, but around three per day were being killed by commercial fishing nets. While the WWF accepted that the UK was complying with current EU rules on gill nets they called for different fishing methods such as handlines to be used instead of gill nets, and remote electronic monitoring to be used to track vessels. Read more here.

Two species of fish found in UK waters in Guardian extinction list: Three species of fish have been included in the Guardian’s list of ten species found across the world which are threaten with extinction, with two of them – the angel shark and European eel – being found in British waters. The Guardian put the list together using information from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s red list of endangered species, the Marine Conservation Society and the work of Professor Peter McDonald from the University of Oxford. Angel sharks are listed as being at risk of extinction as its range has contracted by eighty per cent and bottom trawling and being caught as accidental bycatch have significantly reduced angel shark numbers. European eels (also referred to as silver eels) are at risk due to excessive exploitation, with the species being exploited at every stage of its life cycle. The beluga sturgeon, which produces beluga caviar, was the other fish species listed. Read the full list by clicking here.

Great Barrier Reef suffers collapse in new coral: The Guardian has reported news published in the scientific journal Nature that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has suffered a collapse of eighty-nine per cent in the amount of new coral produced. The Great Barrier Reef – the world’s largest structure made by living organisms – has been blighted by coral bleaching in recent years. This is when coral expel the living algae from within in themselves, leading to the coral taking on a pale and damaged appearance and eventually dying. In 2016 almost half of the coral making up the Great Barrier Reef was affected by bleaching and in 2017 bleaching reached the central section of the reef. The Guardian quoted coral scientist Terry Hughes who said that there was an uncertain future for the reef due to the low amount of new coral which was being produced. Read the full article here.

Marine plastic pollution cost the world $2.5 billion a year: Researchers have calculated that plastic pollution in the world’s seas and oceans costs around $2.5 billion (£1.9 billion) in damage and lost resources. The calculation was made by scientists at Plymouth University’s Marine Laboratory and published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. Fisheries, aquaculture and recreational activities are all affected by plastics in the ocean, reducing the value humans derive from the world’s oceans by one and five per cent. Dr Nicola Beaumont who led the study said that the research was a first attempt at “putting a price on plastic” but believed that they were already an “underestimate of the real costs to global human society.” She added that recycling a ton of plastic may cost several hundred pounds, but the cost of a ton of plastic ending up in the marine environment amounted to thousands of pounds. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Target set for worldwide network of marine reserves: Scientists at Oxford and York universities have worked with Greenpeace to set a target of thirty per cent of international waters to be designated as protected conservation zones. International waters (also known as the high seas) are the areas of the sea outside of the jurisdiction of any country which cover around forty per cent of the Earth’s surface. They are home to a huge range of marine life and also play an important role in absorbing carbon emissions. However, overfishing, seabed mining, ocean acidification and the effects of climate change have led to the call for around one third of international waters (230 million square kilometres, 140 million square miles) to be protected. Professor Callum Roberts, the world-renowned marine scientist based at the University of York said: “The speed at which the high seas have been depleted of some of their most spectacular and iconic wildlife has taken the world by surprise … This report shows how protected areas could be rolled out across international waters to create a net of protection that will help save species from extinction and help them survive in our fast-changing world.” It is believed that a UN treaty could be ratified to bring protection to thirty per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030. Read more by clicking here.

Orcas kill 60ft blue whale: A pod of six orcas (also known as killer whales) have attacked and killed a 60ft (18 metre) blue whale in Australian waters. Despite the fact that they have never killed a human in the wild orcas are the ocean’s apex predator and this status was underlined when researchers witnessed the pod killing the huge blue whale twelve miles off the coast of Western Australia. The researchers from the Cetacean Research Centre and Project Orca were on their way to an offshore study area when they came across the incident. The blue whale had already been bitten by the orcas and the battle continued for around half an hour. Eventually, with the blue whale weaken through loss of blood, the orcas were able to hold it under the water until it died. This then led to as many as fifty orcas gathering in the area to feed on the carcass of the blue whale for the next six hours. Click here to read more.

New footage shows great white sharks hunting: Ground-breaking footage which shows great white sharks hunting in kelp forests off the coast of South Africa has been captured by Australian researchers. Researchers from Murdoch University in Australia attached cameras to the back of eight great white sharks in order to gain the footage. Researchers had previously believed that great white sharks were too big an not agile enough to enter kelp forests to hunt seals, and instead waited on the edge of the forests to ambush seals. However, the footage shows that great whites do indeed go into the kelp to hunt seals. Read more and watch the footage on the BBC website by clicking here.

Beachgoers causing “undue stress” in Scottish seal colonies: The activity of beachgoers is causing stress and potential harm in a colony of seals which are repeatedly stampeding into the sea to escape the actions of humans. The mouth of the River Ythan in Aberdeenshire is a protected area for grey seals to rest and breed. People are permitted to watch the seals from the opposite side of the estuary. However, people, some with dogs, have been walking along the side of the beach which is populated with seals, scaring the seals and forcing them into mass stampedes into the sea. Lee Watson from Ythan Seal Watch said that seals were being scared into the sea up to twenty times a day on weekends, and often the entire colony of around 20,000 seals was being forced into the water. Entering the water can cause shock in seals, delay moulting and cause issues with parasites. Last year the police were called after dog walkers caused around 1,000 seals to stampede into the sea, but after investigating Police Scotland said that no offence had been committed. Read more on this story here.