December 2016 – News

Thresher Shark in Harbour: A thresher shark has been filmed swimming around a Welsh harbour this month. The shark was spotted in Fishguard Harbour in Pembrokeshire where it was filmed by a worker at the harbour. Thresher sharks are rare in UK waters but several are seen every year. Thresher sharks are usually found well out to sea, but it is believed that this shark was attracted into the harbour when it followed shoaling fish. Read more and see pictures here.

Differing Views on Brexit and Fishing: The debate about the impact which leaving the European Union will have on Britain’s commercial fishing fleet and fish stocks continues to rumble on. Almost all of the regions of the UK which have commercial fishing operations located within them voted to leave the EU in the referendum, while the Scottish fishing industry is heavily in favour of leaving despite the rest of Scotland voting very much remain. However, a report issued by the House of Lords has stated that post-Brexit Britain may have to continue to allow EU vessels to fish in UK waters if they want to continue to export fish tariff-free to the rest of the continent. The report also said that as the UK’s commercial fishing industry only generates around one per cent of the country’s GDP and employs around 12,000 people it may be low down on the government’s list of priorities when Brexit negotiations take place. Read more on the BBC website by clicking here. However, an alternative view was offered in Scotland’s Press and Journal. Ramsay Jones – a political adviser and commentator – wrote an opinion piece focusing on the Scottish fishing industry (which has recently reached an agreement to co-operate with their English counterparts over Brexit). He stated that Brexit offered a “sea of opportunity” for the commercial fishing sector. Jones wrote that around half of the fish in UK waters was “given away” as part of the European agreement to share fishing grounds amongst member nations, and Brexit offered the chance to reclaim these waters for British fishermen. Read the full article here.

Threatened Grouper on Sale in Manchester: A grouper weighing more than 400lbs was on sale at a Manchester fishmarket this month, leading to coverage in the regional and national press. The goliath brown grouper was caught in the Indian Ocean near the Seychelles on 11th December and was on sale in the Arndale Market in Manchester two days later. While many media outlets celebrated the fish being on sale others pointed out that goliath groupers are a threatened species. Read more and see pictures here.

Annual Quotas Decided: This month has seen the annual decisions made over the fishing quotas which European nations will be given for 2017. Despite the fact that two-thirds of European waters are overfished many quotas were increased above the levels which scientists recommend. North Sea quotas of cod and whiting were increased by 16.5% and 17% respectively, while monkfish, coalfish and pollock quotas were also increased. Irish Sea and Western Channel quotas were also increased, as were sole quotas in some areas. The fisheries minister George Eustice had argued strongly in favour of increasing quotas, despite the scientific advice recommending otherwise, claiming that “the right balance” had been struck between conserving stocks and giving commercial fishermen enough fish to catch. However, marine conservation charities such as Oceana criticised the quota increases, and the European Union’s commitment to ensure that catch levels are sustainable by 2020 may have been contravened. Read more by clicking here.

Fish Discarded by Commercial Boat Wash Up on Beach: Hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of dead sardines washed up dead on a Cornish beach for the second time this month. Witnesses stated that the fish were fresh and “stretched for as far as the eye could see.” Read the Daily Mirror article on this story here. This led to much speculation over what could have caused the death of the fish, with natural phenomena such as rip tides and pursuit by predators being put forward, along with more concerning explanations such as commercial fishing boat discards. Eventually Gus Caslake of the Cornish Sardine Management Organisation confirmed that the fish had been caught by a fishing boat which had too many fish in its net to haul safely on board (see article in the Guardian here). There is no landing obligation for sardines so the crew of the boat were not doing anything illegal by dumping all of the fish back into the sea dead. However, The Cornwall Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and the Marine Management Organisation have launched investigations into the incident which is sure to generate public anger and outrage at the complete waste of huge amounts of perfectly healthy and edible fish. The incident is also bound to cause embarrassment for the Marine Stewardship Council which has verified the Cornish sardine fishery as sustainable, something people may view with scepticism following this incident.

Social Network to Evade Marine Protection Vessels: There is concern that unscrupulous fishermen are using social networks to evade marine protection vessels. An investigation in Scotland by the Herald found that information was being freely passed around to help vessels avoid the three patrol boats used to ensure that fishing vessels were catching the correct amount of fish and are not using illegal fish methods. The investigation raises questions over why a minority of fishermen seem so keen to avoid the authorities, and what can be done to ensure that the all fish boats are checked to ensure that they are complying with the law. Read more on the Herald website by clicking here.

Clam Allows Scientists to Study Ocean Changes: Scientists examining quahog clams – the world’s longest living species with a lifespan exceeding 500 years – have been able to make precise calculations about how the ocean has changed. Studying growth rings on the clams allows scientists to see how the world’s oceans have altered since industrialisation began in the early 1800s, with scientists finding that human activities have had a significant impact on warming oceans and the wider environment. Read more here.

EU Ban Trawling Below 800 Metres: The European Parliament has confirmed that deep sea trawling at depths of 800 metres or beyond will be banned in the waters of the European Union. Technological progress in the 1980s and 1990s allowed previously unfishable depths to be exploited, and this, along with a huge reduction of fish stocks in shallower waters mean that deep sea fish have now become commercially valuable. However, species which live at these depths are extremely long-living and slow-growing – the orange roughy, for example, is thought to be able to live for around 130 years and needs to be thirty-five years old before it can reproduce. The ecosystem at these depths is also extremely fragile and vulnerable to being destroyed by heavy trawl gear. In 2013 the European Parliament had the chance to ban deep sea fishing, but narrowly voted to allow it to continue, instead placing weak limits and restrictions on certain types of deep sea fishing. However, this month the European Parliament went some way to making amends for this, by confirming that a ban on fishing at depths of over 800 metres will be implemented within the European Union’s waters and monitoring of fishing methods and catch collection records will also be strengthened. Read more by clicking here.

MSC Criticised Over Orange Roughy Certification: In further deep sea fishing news the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has been heavily criticised for certifying orange rough in New Zealand waters as a sustainable species. Orange roughy (also known as deep sea perch as well as a range of other names to make it more appealing to consumers) is a species which lives in very deep water, usually over 800 metres and sometimes as deep as 2000 metres. It is very long living and, as mentioned above, may need to be around thirty-five years old before it can reproduce. While it was once ignored as a food fish the decline of other more accessible species – such as cod and haddock – has seen commercial fishermen target orange roughy in all of the locations where it is found around the world. This has led to populations of orange roughy plummeting, and due to the long-life and slow growth of this species it is very difficult to rebuild numbers once they have been depleted. Despite this the MSC has now certified New Zealand orange roughy as sustainable – a move which many influential organisations such as the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature have criticised, with some saying that it puts the credibility of the MSC’s entire certification scheme into question. Read more here.

Warming Seas Mean More Squid and Less Cod: A scientist from Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) has warned that the warming of the seas around the British Isles means that cold water species such as cod and haddock will slowly move northwards and be replaced with species which are more tolerant of warmer sea temperatures. While red mullet, anchovies, bream species and triggerfish are often highlighted as the main species which will increase in number around the UK, Dr. John Pinnegar of Cefas said that it was squid which would become more common. Dr. Pinnegar stated that squid were now found in 60% of its research stations in the North Sea, compared to just 20% in the 1980s. If such changes do take place it will lead to significant challenges for the UK commercial fishing industry, as well as changes in the species recreational anglers target. Read more in the Guardian by clicking here.

Total Microbead Ban?: Microbeads – the tiny pieces of plastic found in a range of different products are now well known to cause huge damage to the marine environment when they are washed into the world’s seas and oceans. However, the last year or so has seen huge progress made in raising the awareness of the dangers posed by microbeads and a number of countires (including the UK, USA and Ireland) have passed legislation to ban microbeads from cosmetic products such as toothpastes, shower gels and facial scrubs. However, these products account for only a small proportion of the microbead pollution in seas and oceans. For this reason the government has launched a consultation which could be the first step in banning microbeads from detergents, washing powders and household cleaners, meaning microbeads could be banned from all products which end up being washed down the drain. The true impact of microbeads on marine ecosystems has yet to be fully understood, but microbeads have been linked to stunting the growth of fish and clogging the gills and digestive systems of filter feeding organisms. There are also fears that powerful chemicals found in some microplastics may be absorbed into fish and then end up harming humans who eat those fish. Read more on this story in the Guardian by clicking here.

Weird Species of Russian Social Media Star: A Russian deep-sea fisherman has become something of a social media star by uploading pictures of the weird and wonderful species he catches to Twitter and Instagram. Roman Fedortsov who fishes out of Murmansk in north-west Russia has uploaded pictures of frilled sharks, gulper eels, sunfish and rabbit fish, as well as a range of other little-know species which have caught the attention of social media. Most of the species are found at depths down to 1000 metres, and while there are serious conservation issues around commercial fishing at these depths the pictures do allow us to see the rarely spotted species which live at such depths. View Roman Fedortsov’s account on Instagram by clicking here.