December 2017 – News

EU Fisheries Council Announce Fishing Quotas for 2018: Following a record breaking forty-seven hours of negotiations the European Union’s Fisheries Council announced its quotas for fifty-three fish stocks in the Atlantic, North Sea and Black Sea this month. North Sea cod and haddock both had their quotas increased, as did the same two species in the Irish Sea, while Bristol Channel plaice and sole also had a quota increase. However, there were significant reductions in mackerel quota in many areas. The UK government welcomed the deal, but Brexit will potentially have a huge influence on the ways in which European fish stocks are managed in the coming years, as Britain will have the ability to control and manage its own waters and will not have to follow quota rules set down by the EU. Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary, said that Brexit had “loomed large” over these negotiations and that he was seeking assurances that the government would not “not trade access to Scottish waters away to secure other interests in the Brexit negotiations.” With a legally binding obligation to stop overfishing in EU waters coming into force by 2020 the new agreement is set to see two-thirds of fish stocks in European waters being fished sustainably. However, spokespeople for both the Pew Environmental Trust and Oceana – the world’s largest ocean conservation organisation – criticised the fact that some quotas were still higher than scientific advice recommended, and said that time was running out to meet the 2020 overfishing obligation. Read more on this story on the BBC website by clicking here.

Bass – Catch and Release Only for Anglers for All of 2018: Europe’s bass stocks have been in trouble for a number of years now, and there have been restrictions on both commercial and recreational fisheries over the last few years in an attempt to stabilise and restore stocks. Many angling groups have complained that recreational anglers are being hit disproportionally hard by restrictions and limits on their bass fishing while commercial fishing is not subject to the same severity of measures. For example in 2016 anglers were subject to fishing for bass on a catch-and-release only basis for the first six months of the year and then limited to retaining one bass per angler per day for the rest of the year. However, the highly damaging gill net fishery had its quota raised from 1000kg per month to 1300kg at the same time. The same restrictions were placed on anglers in 2017, and there were rumours that anglers would be banned for fishing for sea bass for all or part of 2018, with not even catch-and-release fishing allowed. Many angling groups and representatives of the sea tackle industry strongly campaigned against this, pointing out the unfairness of totally banning recreational fishing while still allowing commercial fishing. In the EU Fisheries Council agreement it was decided that recreational rod and line angling for bass would not be banned in 2018, but only allowed on a catch-and-release basis only for the entire year. Many with the sea angling community will be unhappy with this outcome, especially charter boat skippers who have seen bookings hit due to the fact that anglers can no longer retain bass – but it is certainly better than a total ban on fishing for this species. It was also announced that additional efforts would be made to restrict commercial fishing of Europe’s bass by having a two month period around the spawning season when commercial fishing for bass is banned, and also only allowing limited fishing for bass with certain types of fishing gear. Click here to read The Times take on this story. As well as the restrictions on bass fishing the EU has also introduced measures to protect European eels – a species classed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It will be prohibited to fish for European eels with an overall length of 12cm or greater for three months between September 2018 and January 2019 (exactly which three months will vary country by country). This is to protect eels as they are at their most vulnerable when migrating. However, the vast majority of eel catches are made at freshwater locations far inland as they make their way up rivers the effectiveness of the ban on catching eels in saltwater is questionable. Click here to read more about this and further information about the restrictions on bass fishing.

Trafficked Eels are Worth More Than Cocaine: In related news a report this month referred to eels as “Europe’s ivory” and stated that they are worth more than cocaine when they are trafficked outside of the European Union. The European eel – often referred to by anglers as the silver eel – is seen as a delicacy in parts of Asia (especially China) where it can sell for incredible prices. In March of this year around 600,000 elvers (baby eels) were found hidden in a consignment of fish being legally exported to Asia through Heathrow airport. It is believed that these eels would have been worth around £400,000. As stated in the previous story European eel is classed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the illegal exportation of this species is seen as the number one threat to its survival. To try and protect eel populations it has been illegal to export eels outside of the EU since 2009, but it is now believed that as much as sixty tons of this species is being illegally exported outside of the EU every year. It is thought there are syndicates illegally smuggling eels across Europe, with some making profits of millions of pounds a year. Baby elvers may be much more valuable than cocaine to these groups as an elver weighing less than half a gram with grow in to a 500 gram eel which will be extremely valuable once it is sold in on the Asian market. Read more on this story here.

Top Footballer Says Fishing Is Key To His Form: Edinson Cavani, the footballer who plays for Paris Saint-Germain and the Uruguayan national team, says that fishing is key to maintaining the form which has made him one of the world’s top strikers. Cavani has scored 19 goals in just 18 games in the French league this season as well as scoring another six goals in the Champions League, continuing his impressive goalscoring form since he came to Europe in 2007. In an interview covered by The Sun Cavani said that fishing was an important factor in his form, stating: “Fishing gives me peace, tranquillity. And also, as a forward player, it helps me, with my eyes. “You have to wait for the moment to attack, to catch the fish. And in football my position is basically the same. You have to wait for the precise moment, to attack. I wait for the fish, to catch them.” Many anglers may be surprised to hear that a top footballer believes that there is a clear link between fishing and improved performance on the football field, but few can argue with Cavani’s goalscoring record. Read more by clicking here.

Brexit and Fishing – UK To Leave CFP in 2019?: As usual Brexit has dominated news headlines this month, with the issue of what will happen to Britain’s fisheries post Brexit gaining a lot of attention in the media. The BBC reported that fishermen’s leaders were unhappy at suggestions that the UK would remain in the Common Fisheries Policy (the agreement where all European nations can fish in each other’s waters) until 2021, despite the UK set to leave the EU in 2019. Almost all fishermen would see this as deeply unfair as it would mean that UK fishermen would have to follow European quotas and fisheries rules and regulations despite having no say in setting them, and would mean that foreign fishing vessels would be able to continue fishing in British waters for at least another four years. However, later in December Theresa May made the surprise announcement that the UK was planning to leave the CFP in 2019. This would have pleased fishermen and other groups who are opposed to the CFP, and came as a shock as many believe that as part of the transitional deal the UK would have to follow all EU rules (including the CFP) until 2021. The Times said that the EU had “rowed back” on fishing quotas and it was looking as if the UK would not have to follow EU imposed fishing quotas after 2019 as part of a climb-down by EU officials. While nothing has been agreed yet and there are many months of negotiations to go many people within the fishing industry will be encouraged to see the progress which appears to have been made in reclaiming the UK’s fishing grounds after the Brexit process is complete.

Marine Plastic Pollution: Plastic pollution is currrently a major issue across the world, with many national governments and international organisations taking steps to combat this problem, leading to high levels of media coverage. The following stories about plastic pollution of the marine environment have been in the news this month:

  • The UN Calls Ocean Plastics A “Planetary Crisis”: The United Nations has stated that ocean plastics are now a planet-wide crisis which risks “ruining the ecosystem of the oceans.” The comments were made by Dr Lisa Svensson, the Director for Ocean, at the UN Environment. She was speaking ahead of a UN Environment Summit in Narobi, Kenya, where delegates will push for tougher action against plastic litter and pollution in the world’s seas and oceans. Dr Sevensson said that the scale of the challenge to reduce plastic waste was “absolutely enormous” but backed a resolution put forward by Norway for all nations to completely eliminate plastic waste into the ocean. Currently there is an agreement to substantially reduce the amount of plastic waste going into the seas and oceans by the year 2025, but many see this an insufficient due to the scale of the issue and its potential impact on marine environments across the world. Read more on this story by clicking here.
  • Blue Planet II Scientists Highlight Plastic Pollution: The team of scientists who advised the BBC on making the highly-acclaimed Blue Planet II documentary for the BBC have spoken of their “shame and anger” at the “plague of plastic” affecting the world’s seas and oceans. Marine birds such as albatrosses and fulmars were found to be at risk of death through plastic pollution, while plastic pollution was found in the very deepest parts of the ocean such as the Mariana Trench. Blue Planet II was one of the most watched and highly rated programmes on British television in 2017 and repeatedly highlighted the impact that human actions – especially plastic pollution – had on the environment. Read more here.
  • Nurdles – the Raw Material Of The Plastic Industry – Are Plaguing The Oceans: Nurdles are the raw material of the plastics industry. They are small plastic pellets – around 3-5mm across – and are melted down and reformed into the huge range of plastics we use today. However, their small size means that they are easily spilled on land and lost from containers at sea and end up in the ocean and across the coastline where they will remain for many years without breaking down or biodegrading. Many animals, from seabirds to filter feeders such as mussels mistake the nurdles for food, with as yet unknown consequences on the marine ecosystem. The Great Nurdles Hunt has been organised to try and calculate how widespread nurdles are across the UK coastline and found that 73% of British beaches had nurdles present earlier this year. Read more about nurdles and what can be done about them by clicking here.
  • Toy From 1950s Cereal Packet Found In Arctic Ice: In a final story about plastic pollution a toy given away in a box of breakfast cereal in 1958 has been found 1,500 miles away frozen into Arctic ice. The toy is a two-inch long model of the cruise liner RMS Mauretania, and was given away as a free gift in a box of Sugar Puffs (then manufactured by Quaker Oats) in the late 1950s, most probably in a town or city somewhere along England or Scotland’s east coast. The toy ended up in the North Sea and was then swept by the North Atlantic Current past Scandinavia and on towards the Arctic – a journey which would have taken several years. The toy was found on Jan Mayen Island, a Norwegian territory around 370 miles north east of Iceland which has no permanent population. Eelco Leemans a 59-year-old marine researcher from the Netherlands found the toy on the coastline of the island while carrying out a study on ocean plastic pollution. He took the toy ship home and his daughter was able to use the still-legible words stamped on the bottom of the ship to establish (via Google) that it was one of a range of toy ships given away with the cereal in the UK in the late 1950s. The durability of the toy ship shows how long-lasting plastics are a serious problem for the seas and oceans as they will take hundreds or even thousands of years to biodegrade, and even the process of plastic breaking down in the seas and oceans releases microplastics which may be an even more significant problem than larger pieces of plastic. As well as the toy ship the Dutch research team found bottle caps, pieces of fishing nets, floats and buoys and thousands of pieces of unidentified plastic waste on the island. Additionally the team found a plastic golf tee (despite the nearest golf course being in Scotland over a thousand miles away, a toy doll manufactured in Russia in the 1960s or 1970s and a lobster pot from a Canadian fishing company based 3000 miles away which was made in the year 2000. Read more and see pictures on this story by clicking here.

Celebrities Pose for Fishlove Campaign: More celebrities have posed naked with fish as part of the ongoing Fishlove campaign. Founded in 2009 by Nicholas Rohl who founded the UK’s first British owned sushi chain, Fishlove is aimed at drawing attention to the plight of endangered marine species. While Fishlove has divided opinion with some people questioning whether posing with dead endangered species is a suitable way of campaigning it has achieved a high media profile and stresses that all of the fish used are caught with sustainable methods. Actors such as Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Dame Judi Dench, Mark Rylance and Gillian Anderson have all posed naked with fish in the past, and the latest photos sees Oscar-nominated actress Imelda Staunton pose with a blonde ray. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Plymouth Fishermen Campaign About Discards: Fishermen in Plymouth have called for a change in regulations, saying they are throwing away tens of thousands of pounds of marketable and healthy bass due to the quota rules they have to observe. Currently any bass which amount to more than three per cent of their total catch have to be thrown back into the sea as discards as catches of this species are highly regulated by EU rules designed to protect this species. The Plymouth fishermen says that there is no way to avoid catching bass as they end up in their nets when they are targeting species such as squid and cuttlefish. One fisherman said that he threw £23,000 of bass back into the sea in one day, and collectively fishing vessels from Plymouth discarded around £120,000 of bass in one week. Cornish MP George Eustice has agreed with the fishermen that it is “nonsense to waste a valuable resource” when discussing this issue and a group called Fishermen United has been set up to promote the fishermen’s cause. Click here to read more.

North Right Whales Face Extinction: Officials from the US government have said that north right whales face extinction unless drastic measures are put in place to protect the species. Only around 450 of the whales were left in the world at the start of 2017, but seventeen of them have died in the last twelve months. It is estimated that the population of breeding females left numbers less than one hundred. The population of the species has plummeted since 2010, with the US government saying that human causes of north right whale deaths such as entanglement in fishing gear and being struck by ships need to be urgently stopped to prevent the extinction of the species. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Controversy Over Fish Based Electricity Generation: A number of environmental groups and vegans have been outraged over dead salmon from Scottish fish farms being used to produce biogas. For around two years dead salmon have been transported to Scottish plants which pulp organic waste and produce biogas which is then burned to generate electricity. The National Grid then buy this electricity and sell it to energy companies. While some have defended the move, pointing out that it is better to use the dead fish for a useful purpose rather than let them go to waste others have been outraged that vegans and vegetarians are using electricity which has been produced with dead fish. Read more on this story here.

Huge Area of Arctic Waters to be Protected: The European Union and nine other nations have agreed to put 2.8 million square kilometres of the Central Arctic Ocean under protection, meaning it will be off-limits to commercial fishing for at least sixteen years. The Arctic Ocean is one of the last unspoilt ecosystems as it has been protected from commercial fishing and other forms of exploitation by the thick ice which surrounds the area. However, global warming means that the summer ice around the Arctic is becoming increasingly thin meaning that commercial fishing in the area may become viable. The new agreement means that nations which surround the area will seek to access the Central Arctic Ocean, and other nations such as China and Japan will refrain from sending their distant water fleets to the Arctic. Scientists have hailed the agreement as it means the Arctic ecosystem can be studied and understood without commercial fishing or oil exploration affecting the area. Read more by clicking here.

North East Anglers Criticised for Fishing Beyond Clifftop Safety Barriers: Anglers fishing from cliffs along the coastline of Tyneside have been criticised for fishing past the safety barriers. Anglers fishing from clifftop marks along the Leas between South Shields and Whitburn in South Tyneside often set up their gear and fish near the edge of the cliffs on the wrong side of the safety barriers. Local police have said that the anglers are placing themselves at “significant risk” and that there are “no circumstances” where people should go past the barriers. However, a spokesperson from South Shields Volunteer Life Brigade said that other than advising people against fishing from the cliffs there was little that they, the police or the coast guard could do to stop anglers fishing from these marks. Despite the cliffs at South Shields being around 150ft (46 metres) above sea level they are a popular mark with a number of anglers fishing for cod in the winter months. The issue of anglers putting their safety at risk by fishing from these cliffs came to light after a local paper, the Shields Gazette, ran a story showing pictures of the anglers fishing from the cliffs, which can be read by clicking here.

Florida Man Nearly Loses Hand Trying to Unhook a Shark: A man who caught a shark while fishing in the Florida Keys nearly lost his hand when the shark snapped at him as he tried to unhook it. The unidentified species of shark was laid out on the ground as the man tried to remove the hook from its mouth when it suddenly lunged and attempted to bite the man who just about managed to move his hand away in time. According to the Daily Mail which ran the story the man eventually managed to unhook the shark safely and return it to the water. Click here to view the video on the Daily Mail website.

US Fisherman Denied $2.8 Million Prize: An angler has been denied a multi-million dollar prize for catching a marlin at a US fishing competition, and even after a protracted legal battle and trial appeals mean the case will drag on. The issues began when Phil Heasley and his crew caught a 76.5lb marlin at the 2016 White Marlin Open off the coast of Maryland. Heasley’s catch was the only marlin above the qualifying weight of 70lbs, meaning he won the prize money – a not insignificant sum of $15,000. However, according to the Daily Mail anglers are permitted to place bets on themselves, leading to the total amount Heasley would have won being raised to an incredible $2.8 million. However, due to the huge sums involved it is standard practice for anglers and the crew of fishing boats to pass lie-detector tests to prove that they have not cheated. According to the organisers of the competition Heasley and all of the four man crew of the boat he was on failed the lie-detector test, leading to the money being withheld. Now, after a nine day trial a judge has ruled against Heasley, stating that he agreed to the competitions rules before entering. Heasley, an experience angler from Florida who has previously won $800,000 in fishing competitions has said that he will appeal the decision. Click here to read more on this story.

Resident Population of Bottlenose Dolphins Found Living Off Cornish Coast: A pod of bottlenose dolphins – the only one in English waters – has been confirmed as being resident off the Cornish coast. Researchers analysed photos of bottlenose dolphins sighted in the area over the last ten years and were able to confirm that twenty-eight of the dolphins were resident all year round. The researchers mainly used the dorsal fin of bottlenose dolphins to identify individuals, with the differences in dorsal fins in bottlenose dolphins being described as being as unique as a fingerprint is to a human. There are already two pods of bottlenose dolphins resident in UK waters, one off the coast of Wales and one in Scottish waters, but the first found in English waters has been described as an “incredibly exciting” discovery and there are now calls for the dolphins to be afforded the same protection which the populations in Wales and Scotland have. Read more by clicking here.