December 2019 – News

EU quotas for 2020 set above scientific advice: The quotas for European fishing have been decided for next year, with many being set at levels higher than scientists recommend leading to heavy criticism from environmental groups and conservation organisations. The increase in many quotas comes despite an EU law being passed which was supposed to ensure that all fishing took place within sustainable limits by 2020. The Guardian reported that west of Scotland and Irish Sea cod stocks would come under new commercial pressure, as would sole and plaice in the Celtic Sea. The quota for North Sea haddock was increased by twenty-three per cent, but the cod quota in this area was reduced (see story below). Campaigners pointed out that a in a number of cases quotas had been increased for species where scientists had recommended they needed be cut to ensure that the species is being fished sustainably. Rebecca Hubbard of the ocean campaigning organisation Our Fish said “They’re just not getting it … the EU council of fisheries ministers [has] refused to follow scientific advice”. The recently re-appointed UK fisheries minister George Eustice defended the decisions on quota, although he criticised the EU’s “outdated method for sharing quota” and stated that this would be the last year in which they UK took part in these negotiations as the country would leave the EU at the end of next month. Read more on this story by clicking here.

North Sea cod quota halved: As reported last month North Sea cod stocks are in much worse shape than previously believed, meaning that the species has lost its Marine Stewardship Council verification as a sustainable species. This had led to the EU negotiations (discussed in the story above) reducing the North Sea cod quota by half in an attempt to allow the species to recover. The total allowable catch for 2020 will now be 17,669 tons. Representatives of the commercial fishing industry stated that the cut in quota would prove extremely challenging, but conservationists and environmental charities welcomed the move with Alec Taylor, head of marine policy at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) saying “This is a good decision, which we hope will offer this iconic but struggling North Sea cod population a much-needed chance of recovery.” Click here to read more on this story.

Size of Spanish fishing industry criticised: Charles Clover, the environmental campaigner and author of the highly influential book The End of the Line, wrote an article in The Times this month criticising the choice of Spain for this year’s United Nations conference on the health of our oceans. This, Clover explained, was because the Spanish fishing industry is one of the largest and most damaging in Europe. Clover states that the Spanish fishing industry’s size dates back to the time of General Franco and is “built on subsidies and out of scale with the planet’s resource of wild fish.” Spain’s membership of the European Union and the Common Fisheries Policy means that – in theory at least – the size and catch levels of Spain’s fishing fleet should be limited. However, the country bypasses this by turning a blind eye to regulations or using boats which are fishing under the flag of other nations. Clover closed by saying that Spain should break with this history of an unsustainable fishing fleet and move to a less destructive way of fishing. Read the full article here.

Rare shark species captured: A rare species of shark has been captured by scientists off the coast of Portugal. Scientists from the European MINOUW project caught a frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus) at a depth of around 700 metres, the first new specimen discovered by humans since one was caught as bycatch by an Australian fishing vessel in 2015. The frilled shark caught in Portuguese waters was around 1.5 metres long, although they can be double this size and reach 200lbs. They have unique multi-pointed teeth and their elongated bodies have led to the belief that they may have been mistaken for sea serpents in medieval times. Frilled sharks are known as a ‘living fossil’ as they have been present in the world’s oceans for around 80 million years but do not have to appear to have evolved in this time. Read more and see pictures of the frilled shark here. Read more on this story and see pictures of the frilled shark by clicking here.

Warning over invisible plastic pollution: An article in the Guardian this month highlighted that fact that we cannot see the vast majority of plastic which is polluting the world’s seas and oceans due to its microscopic size. The article stated that plastic we can see on the surface accounts for less than one per cent of the total. The rest of the plastic breaks down into tiny particles which accumulate in the deepest parts of the ocean or buried in seabed sediment. The article states that plastic pollution may be best understood as a chemical dissolved in the sea, rather than as pollution floating on the surface. Further research by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute found that areas of the coastline and oceans which appeared to be healthy and unspoiled to the naked eye actually contained large amounts of plastic and microplastic pollution when seawater samples from the areas were analysed. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Pollution and climate change is causing ocean oxygen depletion: A combination of warming seas due to climate change and pollution caused by nutrient run-off is causing the world’s seas and oceans to run out of oxygen. The warning comes after a study carried out by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature found that seven hundred ocean sites are now suffering from oxygen depletion, up from just forty-five in the 1960s. While the pollution run-off from farms and industry has been known to be a cause of ocean oxygen depletion for many decades scientists now say that rising sea temperatures are exacerbating the issue as warmer water holds less oxygen. De-oxygenation of the seas and oceans could cause major changes to the entire marine ecosystem, with species such as jellyfish (which favour low-oxygen environments) increasing in number, but large species such as sharks and tuna being unable to survive. Minna Epps of the IUCN said that the seas were set to lose 3 – 4 per cent of their current oxygen levels by 2100, with tropical areas suffering much more than colder waters. Worryingly, it was pointed out that even in a best case scenario oxygen would still decline in the oceans. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Lights fitted to fishing nets could save dolphins and turtles: A trial in Peruvian waters which saw lights fitted to commercial fishing nets could reduce the bycatch of rare and endangered species such as dolphins, seabirds and turtles while leaving fish catches unaffected. Researches from Exeter University and Peruvian organisation ProDelphinus worked together to develop the floating LED lights which were attached at thirty metre intervals to commercial fishing nets used by small-scale vessels. They found that bycatch of non-target species was reduced by around seventy per cent, with no negative effect on fish catch levels. As the lights were inexpensive and did not affect saleable catches it is hoped that the invention could be used to help commercial fishing take place more sustainably, both in Peru and elsewhere in the world. Read more on this story by clicking here.