December 2020 – News

EU and UK finally agree trade deal: The EU and the UK have finally agreed a trade deal after months of tortuous negotiations. The deal will cover many different areas such as trade, finance, pharmaceuticals, defence and security, science and research, state aid and environmental standards. While most of these areas were agreed some time ago it was fisheries which proved a major stumbling block and at times looked likely to be the issue which prevented the entire deal from being agreed, meaning that the UK would leave the EU transition period on the 31st December on a no deal basis. However, on Christmas Eve it was announced that a deal had been finalised. In terms of fisheries, there will be a five-and-a-half-year adjustment period. During this time the UK will begin to take back some of the quota currently given to UK vessels, with twenty-five per cent being re-appropriated to British vessels by the end of the adjustment period. When the adjustment period ends the extent to which EU vessels can fish in British waters and the quota of fish they are permitted to catch will be negotiated annually. The government has also said that an additionally £100 million will be invested in the UK fishing industry to modernise fishing fleets and shore-based fish processing facilities. The fisheries aspect of the trade deal has received a mixed reception in the commercial fishing industry. Some have claimed that it does not go far enough and gives EU fishermen too much access to British waters, but others have welcomed it as a step towards the UK reclaiming its own fishing grounds while still allowing tariff-free access to export UK fish and seafood to the EU. Read more on this story by clicking here.

EU fishing quotas to be set higher than scientific advice recommends: While the EU/UK fishing negotiations were taking place the EU was deciding on fishing quotas for 2021 (without the UK). Quotas for EU vessels will once again be set higher than scientific advice recommends for one-third of species. This breaks the EU’s own pledge which was set in legislation in 2013 to end overfishing by 2020. From 2021 onwards all catches were meant to be set in line with scientific advice (instead of nations arguing and bargaining with each other for the largest catches), discards were supposed to be banned and a long-term management plan should have been in place. Instead, a quarter of last year’s quota which would have gone to the UK has been rolled into catches for 2021 which goes against scientific advice and there are no plans to end the annual December negotiations where countries fight for the highest possible quota share for their fishermen. EU member states blamed the uncertainty over Brexit for the higher quotas, although it was pointed out that fish stocks which are unaffected by Brexit, such as pollack and sole in the Bay of Biscay, also had their catch levels set higher than scientists advised. Rebecca Hubbard, programme director of the campaigning organisation Our Fish said: “Unfortunately, today’s outcome shows how far EU member states are from delivering their promises to their citizens, including our children who will inherit the legacy of their decisions … EU fisheries ministers willingly lock themselves into this abusive cycle which helps nobody, not the fish, the ocean, the climate or the fishers.” Read more on this story by clicking here.

Up to 1.5 billion face masks could pollute the world’s seas: The current coronavirus pandemic could lead to an additional 1.5 billion facemasks ending up in the world’s seas and oceans this year. The findings come from the charity Oceans Asia which calculated that 52 billion face masks will be manufactured this year and 1.56 billion would enter the oceans. This would add between 4,600 and 6,200 metric tons of plastic pollution to the total amount of the world’s marine pollution. Facemasks are made from polypropylene, a material which includes plastic fibres meaning that they could take centuries to fully break down once they are in the sea. Click here to read more on this story.

Deep-sea mining will carry “environmental, scientific, financial and political risks”: Recent years have seen the issue of seabed mining become increasingly prominent. Many companies are lobbying to be able to mine the seabed for the millions of tons of valuable minerals and metals which are present there, while conservation groups have claimed that mining the world’s seabeds would be an environmental disaster. An article in the New Stateman examined the differing opinions on this issue. The seabed across the deep sea does not belong to any nation and is instead controlled by the International Seabed Authority (ISA) which is tasked with managing the seabed for the collective benefit of all nations. The ISA has issued around thirty contracts allowing seabed mining covering over a million square kilometres of seabed since 2001 but is now under pressure to allow this activity to expand. Advocates of deep-sea mining claim that it would provide the raw materials for renewable energy but Craig Smith, professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii, told the New Statesman “It is inconceivable to think of [deep-sea mining] as green … The footprint of impact of seabed mining will likely be larger than any other industrial activity on the planet, if it goes to the full scale envisioned.” However, others have claimed that deep seabed mining would allow the rest of the world to break the near-monopoly China has on producing rare-earth metals. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Supertrawlers fishing off the coast of Sussex: Nine supertrawlers, the largest of which is 126 metres in length, were fishing off the coast of southern England this month. The website Marine Traffic showed the vessels fishing in the English Channel and surrounding waters. Dolphin and marine mammal charities have expressed their concern over the level of cetacean bycatch which the supertrawlers will cause and have urged the public to report any dead dolphins or whales which are found washed up on beaches. Other charities such as Blue Planet Society have pointed out that there is little way of checking the levels of non-target species which are caught by supertrawlers as there is no onboard video recording or independent checking of bycatch. A spokesperson for the Marine Management Organisation which is responsible for policing the actions of trawlers operating in UK waters said: “The activity of super trawlers is managed in the same way as all fishing vessels.” Read more on this story by clicking here. The presence of the supertrawlers was heavily criticised by marine conservation charities who accused the trawlers of committing “marine ecocide” in the English Channel before they are potentially shut out of British waters by the Brexit deadline. Captain Garry Oates from the charity Blue Seas Protection said that the presence of the supertrawlers was “an act of last-minute defiance and destruction” before the transition period ends and went on to say that the fact that the supertrawlers could operate in marine conservation areas made the UK a “laughing stock.” Read more on the BBC News website by clicking here.

UK’s marine protected zones among the worst in Europe: A major conservation organisation has found that the UK’s marine protected zones (MPAs) offer some of the lowest levels of protection in Europe. Oceana, the world’s largest marine conservation charity, studied thousands of MPAs across Europe. It found that some of the UK’s allowed up to twelve damaging activities to take place within them, including trawling, dredging and seabed drilling. A previous study by Oceana found that trawling was still allowed in ninety-seven per cent of UK MPAs. The report by Oceana has placed further pressure on the government to toughen up rules on MPAs, with Environment Minster Lord Goldsmith, hinting in September that supertrawlers would be banned from British waters after the Brexit transition period had ended. Read more on this story here.

Bags and flexible plastic packaging are the biggest killers of marine life: A study by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, an agency of the Australian government, has found that flexible plastic is the most damaging form of marine plastic pollution. Plastic bags and packaging were the most damaging, followed by latex gloves, balloons, and fishing line, while discarded commercial fishing nets were the most harmful for marine mammals. The study found that flexible plastic was the most damaging for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is one of the most common types of plastic meaning it is found all over the world and its neutral buoyancy means that it is found at all levels of the sea. It can also be crumpled up allowing animals to eat it but it then expands within the animal, blocking the digestive system. The research stated that: “We recommend policymakers focus on reduction through regulation, prohibition and replacement of high?mortality-risk large items such as plastic bags, plastic packaging, plastic sheets, fishing rope, nets, tackle and balloons.” Read more on this story by clicking here.

Bass are back to being a catch and release only species for UK anglers: There have been restrictions on anglers fishing for bass in the UK since 2016 due to the measures in place to stop the decline of this species. This year has seen bass become a catch and release species only for January, February and December (the spawning season for the species) while anglers have been able to catch and retain two bass per day (as long as they meet the minimum size of 42cm in length) for the rest of the year. This means that from the start of this month onwards anglers must return all bass that they catch regardless of size. At the time of writing the regulations for bass fishing in 2021 have yet to be decided. View the full guidance for bass fishing for 2020 on the government website by clicking here.

Fourteen countries agree on sustainable fishing initiative: The governments of fourteen nations have agreed on an initiative which will end overfishing and reduce the levels of pollution in their seas and oceans. The governments of Jamaica, Australia, Portugal, Chile, Fiji, Namibia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Palau and Canada, which are collectively responsible for around forty per cent of the world’s coastline, have signed up to the agreement. The initiative aims to ensure that all of the nation’s fish sustainably in their own waters by 2025 by stopping damaging subsidies which allow overfishing fishing to continue, preventing illegal fishing and reducing bycatch and discards. The fourteen nations have called for other countries to join the initiative. Read more on this story here.

Auditors slam EU for lack of progress in protecting the Mediterranean: Auditors have criticised the EU as there has been “no meaningful signs of progress” in attempts to restore and protect the Mediterranean. Out of 3,000 protected areas less than one per cent completely banned fishing and Italy, Spain and France had only used six per cent of a €6bn (£5.42bn) fund given to them to protect the marine environment. The EU had claimed that the thousands of designated areas cast a “wide protective net” around Europe’s marine environment, but Joao Figueiredo of the European Court of Auditors said “Our audit clearly raises the red flag over the EU’s sea protection.” Further criticisms were levelled at the EU with individual states blamed for blocking measures to restore the Mediterranean while simultaneously claiming to support plans to restore it. A number of NGOs including the marine conservation charity Oceana have written to Virginijus Sinkevicius, the EU commissioner for the environment, oceans and fisheries, urging him to ensure that the Mediterranean was properly protected. Click here to read more on this story.

Research into Wales angel shark hotspot: Research will be carried out to find out if there is an angel shark hotspot located off the coast of Wales. Angel sharks were once common around most of the coast of the British Isles but have been reduced in number to the extent that they are now classed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Previously there were only thought to be large numbers of angel sharks around the Canary Islands but sightings suggest that they could be present in significant numbers off the Welsh coast. Research will now be carried out by the Angel Shark Project Wales over the next year to ascertain if angel sharks are present. Angel Shark Project Wales coordinator said: “”For the Welsh marine environment it’s really positive that we still have this critically endangered species swimming around the coast.” Read more on this story by clicking here.

Is land-based salmon farming sustainable?: Open-water salmon farming, which is used throughout the UK, has expanded in recent decades and is now a significant industry, especially in Scotland. However, this type of fish farming has been heavily criticised for a number of reasons including the pollution it creates, and the welfare standards of the salmons in the farms. An article in the Guardian this month looked at how land-based salmon farming in the USA could be to avoid the environmental issues caused by open-water salmon farming and also regenerate deprived towns. The article, by Mark Kurlansky, said that the small towns of Bucksport and Belfast in Maine could be regenerated through the employment created by the fish farms. These land-based farms would use new technology known as RAS (Recirculating Aquaculture System) which allows salmon to be raised in huge tanks with no exposure to the seas. While such fish farms would avoid many of the issues of open-water farms the carbon emissions of land-based fish farming are extremely high as pumps and water temperature regulation need to operate on a permanent basis. Advocates of the farms have stated that these carbon emissions could be mitigated as the fish produced at the farms could be directly transported to major cities where they are sold and do not have to be flown across the world as Norwegian and Scottish salmon is. Read more on this story by clicking here.