December 2018 – News

Anglers set to continue to retaining one bass per day: The EU rules which were decided this month look set to allow anglers to continue retaining one bass per angler per day until at least 31st October 2019. Although the new rules will not be confirmed until January the government has stated that it expects current rules (where anglers can retain one bass per day) to apply until 31st October 2019. The news will be welcomed by angling groups who were outraged that bass became a catch-and-release only species for anglers last year while certain commercial fishing operations could still legally catch and sell bass. However, the 2019 rules have also seen authorised commercial fishermen have increases in the amount of bass they can catch or retain. The so-called “by-catch limit” (which is widely seen as a catch limit) for trawlers has been increased, and hook and line and gill net bass fisheries have also seen their quotas increased. Read more on the government website here.

Giant bluefin tuna found washed up dead on Scottish beach: A six-foot long bluefin tuna has been found washed up on a beach in Fife. The tuna was discovered by members of the public who were taking a walk along the beach and staff from Deep Sea World (a large public aquarium in North Queensferry) confirmed the identity of the fish. Bluefin tuna were common in the North Sea in the first half of the twentieth century but became almost totally absent when overfishing of herring removed their main source of food. However, there is now plenty of evidence that – despite being heavily overfished – bluefin tuna are back in British waters. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Plastic bag fee set to double to 10p: The issue of plastic pollution and the impact it has on the marine environment remains high up the political agenda. This month it was announced that the tax on plastic bags, currently set at 5p, will be doubled. Small shops which supply an estimated 3.6 billion plastic bags to the public and are currently exempt from charging the tax will also have to apply it to any plastic bags given to customers. The Marine Conservation Society has confirmed that since the 5p tax came into force in October 2015 the number of plastic bags found both on beaches and recovered from the sea has gone down. There are also plans for schools to impose their own ban on plastic straws, cutlery and food packaging by 2022. Read more by clicking here.

Japan quits IWC to resume commercial whaling: Japan has faced international condemnation by leaving the IWC (International Whaling Commission) in order to resume the commercial hunting of whales. The IWC was set up in 1946 to preserve whale stocks and currently eighty-eight nations are members. In its first few decades the IWC helped to organises and regulate quotas to catch whales, but in 1986 a moratorium was passed to ban the hunting of whales. However, certain counties such as Iceland and Norway have continued whaling to a limited extent, and Japan has caught whales for so-called scientific research purposes, which many see as simply a cover to continue commercial whaling. In September Japan (backed by counties which have ties to the Japanese economy) lost a vote at the IWC conference to re-allow commercial whaling. Following this they have stated that they will leave the IWC in order resume the commercial capture of whales. The Japanese government has said that they will only catch whales in their own territorial waters and that they will only hunt whale species which are not endangered. The move has prompted international criticism with Environment Secretary Michael Gove stating that the UK was “strongly opposed” to commercial whaling. Japan will formally leave the IWC in June 2019. Read more here.

Irish government to ban large trawlers within six miles of the coast: The Irish government has announced that it will ban trawlers over eighteen metres in length from accessing waters within six nautical miles of its coastline from 1st January 2020. Michael Creed, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine said that the move would benefit the operators of smaller vessels and help protect the marine environment and nursery areas. Irish marine charities welcomed the plans and there is hope that the UK could follow with similar regulations. Click here to read more.

EU fishing quotas decided for 2019: Fishing quotas for EU vessels operating in the Atlantic Ocean, North Sea and Black Sea were decided this month at the annual meeting of the Council of Fisheries Ministers of the European Union. The EU heavily publicised the fact that the number of stocks being fished at maximum sustainable yield (the maximum amount which can be taken without causing long term depletion) will rise from fifty-three to fifty-nine, and there will be additional protection for the critically endangered European eel. A British delegation attended the meeting in what is likely to be the final time before the country formally leaves the EU in March of this year. Species which are classed as threatened or under pressure had quotas increased in some areas, with west of Scotland monkfish quota going up 25% and skate and ray quotas in the English Channel increasing by 10%. However, the EU’s largest cod quota was cut by 35% and the largest mackerel quota by 20%. Read more here. Representatives of the UK commercial fishing industry, which push for the highest possible quotas for their fishermen, called the result of the talks a “mixed bag.” However, conservation groups and marine charities warned that once again scientific advice on maximum catch levels had been ignored. Oceana (the world’s largest marine charity) said that progress on improving Europe’s fisheries was very modest and that unsustainable fishing within European waters would still be taking place. The environmental law charity Client Earth stated that EU ministers had “signed off on overfishing for certain stocks in European waters, including vulnerable species.” They also pointed out that a deadline comes into force in 2020 which makes it a legal responsibility to fish sustainably in European waters, but under current quotas and catch levels this is highly unlikely to be met. Read more by clicking here.

Discard ban set to come into force in 2019: A ban on discarding fish is set to come into force on the 1st January 2019 in EU waters. The ban – which essentially amounts to stopping commercial fishermen throwing away perfectly healthy edible fish – has been eight years in the making as commercial fishing groups across Europe have lobbied to reduce its effectiveness and seek exemptions for themselves. The new rules mean that, with some exceptions, all fish caught must be brought back to shore and landed. Previously commercial fishermen who ran out of quota for a specific species could keep fishing for other species and throw away any of the fish they caught but had no quota for. An article on the BBC website this month summarised the issues with the new discard ban, pointing out the impact it would have on fishermen and the difficulties in enforcing it. Read more by clicking here.

UK-based charity claims world’s marine ecosystem could collapse within 25 years: A charity has claimed that the global marine ecosystem could collapse within twenty-five years unless immediate action is taken to eliminate ocean pollution and other activities which damage the seas and oceans. Global Oceanic Environmental Survey, which is based in Edinburgh, made the claims with its chief scientific officer Dr Howard Dryden stating that rising acidity levels will cause a “cascade collapse” of the marine ecosystem which could eventually threaten all life on earth. Read more here.

Animal activists stop SeaWorld dolphin show in Australia: An animal rights group called Justice for Captives have disrupted a show at a SeaWorld marine theme park on the Gold Coast. The group are opposed to marine mammals such as dolphins and killer whales being used in entertainment shows and successfully stopped a dolphin show by getting in the water while holding placards which showed slogans reading “animals are not entertainment” and “captivity is cruel.” The customers of the park booed the activists who were eventually arrested. Marine theme parks, especially SeaWorld, have come under pressure to stop shows since the release of the 2013 film Blackfish which examined the issues of keeping marine mammals such as killer whales in captivity. Read more by clicking here.

Half of the fish at Scottish fish farm ‘wiped out’: News emerged this month that around half of the fish at a Scottish fish farm died over the summer. Wester Ross Fisheries confirmed that 52.8% of the salmon at one site, and 41.9% at another site died when the summer heatwave caused water temperatures to rise leading to increased plankton levels and declining oxygen in the water and caused the deaths of the fish. The news comes as the Scottish fish farming industry – long seen as an economic success story – is coming under heavy criticism for its environmental impact. Issues with pollution, parasite infestations, high mortality rates and the use of wild fish as cleaner fish have led to questions being asked over how sustainable fish farming in Scotland is, and led to calls for the continued expansion of the industry to be stopped. Click here to read more on this story.

Concerns over welfare of wrasse in Scottish fish farms: In a related story the welfare of wild-caught wrasse in fish farms has been highlighted as a major concern. Scottish fish farms have long battled against infestations of parasitic sea lice due to the way in which salmon are held in close proximity to each other. With chemical treatments of to rid salmon of sea lice proving both unpopular with consumers and increasingly ineffective, fish farmers have turned to using wild fish – mostly wrasse and lumpsucker – as cleaner fish to eat parasites off the salmon. This has led to outrage from conservation groups and anglers, as hundreds of thousands of wild wrasse have been taken from the coastline of south west England and transported to Scottish salmon farms to be used as cleaner fish. Once they are too large for this role they are killed. Now animal health charity OneKind has said that the use of cleaner fish should be suspended as they suffer from major health and welfare issues when being used for this purpose, with the director of the charity saying there were “endless welfare issues” over the expansion of salmon farming in Scotland. A representative of the Scottish fish farming industry said that they met all animal welfare guidelines and legal requirements when using cleaner fish. Read more by clicking here.

European fish farming industry wants to double production by 2030: In another related story the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers has stated that it wants to almost double production to 4.5 million metric tons of seafood by 2030, up from the current 2.3 million metric tons. The fish farming industry claims that this is something which is needed due to the rising world population. However, fish farming has come under serious scrutiny recently due to the huge environmental impact that many fish farms have on the marine environment and wild fish stocks. While the Scottish fish farming industry was previously seen as a success story and has expanded rapidly it is now battling against negative publicity due to parasite outbreaks across the industry, diseases from farms spreading to wild fish, pollution from chemical runoff and uneaten food, stocks and wild wrasse being caught in huge numbers to act as cleaner fish in fish farms. Just last month it was announced that Scottish fish farms will face stricter rules and some could even close due to the impact they were having on the environment. For these reasons the plans to expand Europe’s fish farming/aquaculture industry so significantly are likely to raise eyebrows. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Ocean Cleanup project ‘not working’: The huge amount of plastic waste in the world’s seas and oceans has become a major international issue, generating some innovative ideas about how to remove it. One of the ideas which has received worldwide attention is the Ocean Cleanup project. This was devised by Dutchman Boyan Slat when he was only sixteen years old and has been funded with millions of pounds of donations from all over the world. The original plan was for booms over 100km long to travel through the sea while they removed plastic, although revisions saw the size of the booms reduced to 1-2km. News has emerged this month, however, that after tests the booms do not appear to work in the way envisioned. Rather than collecting plastic and rubbish passively as they drift through the ocean, the booms appear to retain only a small amount of rubbish, with the rest escaping. The reason for this is not known, although it has been speculated that the entire concept of the boom may be flawed. This is in addition to criticism that the booms will kill sea life, and fears over what would happen to rubbish and plastic accumulated in the boom if they break up in bad weather. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Whale shark tourism ‘saved’ a Philippine town: An article in the Guardian this month explained how tourism based around diving with whale sharks lifted a town in the Philippines out of poverty. The town of Oslob in Cebu province struggled with povery. Many families had lost their home in typhoons and fishermen earned as little as $1.40 per day. There were also issues with child slaves being used in the local fishing industry, and destructive fishing practices which saw reefs being smashed as a means of gathering fish. However, an initiative between fishermen and the local government has seen fishermen in the area take tourists out in their boats to view whale sharks – a species the local fishermen never hunted despite the poverty they endured. With shale sharks being the largest species of fish in the sea, demand to view the sharks has been high with tourists taken out to view or dive with the whale sharks 364 days of the year. Profits are shared between the fishermen and the local government, with a proportion put towards employing wardens to protect the whale sharks. While there have been claims that the sightseeing of whale sharks disturbs their natural migration patterns research into this has proven it not be the case. The Philippine whale shark tourism is therefore being seen as a way in fishermen can be provided with a livelihood by working with large species, rather than catching them. Read the full Guardian article by clicking here.

Millennials accused of ‘killing’ canned tuna: A new report from the USA has found that millennials (those born between approximately 1980 and 1999) are turning against canned tuna, a mainstay of American (and British) kitchens for decades. Market research firm Mintel found that the three biggest canned tuna companies in the US have reported that sales have fallen by 42% since the 1980s, and only 32% of consumers aged 24 to 43 bough canned tuna, compared to 45% of over 55s. The reasons for the decline were stated as canned tuna being too “stinky, processed and inconvenient.” However, one of the main reasons may be consumers becoming more environmentally conscious and being more aware of the endangered status of many tuna species and the dolphin bycatch associated with tuna fishing. The report found that more expensive, upmarket brands of tuna in the US – which focus on higher quality and sustainable fishing practices – had seen a rise in their sales. Click here to read more on this story.

Seabird populations decline 70% due to overfishing of small species: News emerged this month that seabird populations around the UK have fallen by 70% over the last fifty years, and they are now the most threatened bird group in the UK. The main cause of the decline has been the huge level of fishing for the small forage fish that seabirds feed on, especially sandeels. Earlier this year it was announced that the Danish fishing industry has been allowed to catch 458,000 tons of sandeels in the North Sea alone, up from 82,000. Pollution, invasive species eating chicks and habitat destruction were other factors causing the decline of seabirds. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Microplastic pollution found in the deepest known part of the ocean: Research published in the academic journal Geothermal Perspectives has confirmed that microplastics (plastic particles ranging from 5mm across to fractions of a millimetre across) are present in the Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the world’s ocean. The Mariana Trench is located in the Western Pacific. Its deepest point is known as Challenger Deep and lies 11,034 metres (36,201 ft) below sea level. Scientists took samples from the trench and found that each litre of seawater contained around 2000 individual pieces of microplastic. A huge proportion of the plastic which has entered the world’s seas and oceans is unaccounted for and there are fears that it could be breaking down into microplastics and accumulating in the deepest parts of the ocean such as the Mariana Trench. Read more on this story by clicking here.