December 2021 – News

Cod stocks set for record low after ICES advice ignored: UK cod stocks are set to reach record lows after ministers ignored scientific advice when setting quotas for the species. ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) – the organisation which provides scientific advice on sustainable catch levels – stated that three of the UK’s five cod populations should have reduced quotas and the other two should have the catch limits set at zero. This was because cod numbers have declined significantly in recent years and a reduction in fishing pressure is needed to allow the stocks to recover. Ministers have disregarded this advice and set higher quotas for all five populations. For example in the Celtic Sea the cod population is currently calculated to be 1,710 tonnes – an eighty-seven per cent reduction from 12,924 tonnes in 1981. Ices, therefore, recommended a zero catch limit for this population, but a quota of 644 tons has been allowed for next year. The same zero limit was recommended for the west of Scotland but a 1,279-tonne quota was agreed, and in Rockall, the Irish Sea and the North Sea quotas were set higher than ICES recommended. Charles Clover executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation said: “The results of this year’s fish negotiations are actually quite shocking for cod: the EU and the UK are required by law to manage depleted stocks such as these ones for recovery … the country’s favourite fish are being sacrificed for profits.” Read the full article on the Times website by clicking here.

Licences allowing fishing in protected areas could be unlawful: One of the world’s largest marine conservation organisations has said that licences given to EU and UK vessels to fish in British protected marine areas could be illegal. Oceana made the claim in a letter that was sent to George Eustice, the secretary of state for the environment. The Guardian reported that the letter said that licences that allow vessels to conduct seabed trawling and dredging in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) could contravene UK law if an environmental assessment of the likely impact of such fishing has not been carried out. Melissa Moore from Oceana Europe was quoted in the Guardian saying: “The habitat directive is saying before you license you must prove that the licence won’t have an impact on the site … The government has not done that.” Commercial fishing is still allowed within ninety-seven per cent of MPAs and Oceana calculated that last year seabed trawlers spend 68,000 hours fishing within protected areas around the UK. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Kirkella owners unhappy with new UK/Norway fishing agreement: This month the company which operates Britain’s largest trawler has complained that the post-Brexit deal which has been agreed with Norway will translate into just one week’s work for the vessel. The Hull-based Kirkella is the largest vessel in the UK fleet, measuring 81 metres (265 ft) and displacing 3,976 tons. The Kirkella catches demersal whitefish such as cod and haddock and can freezer its catch on board. The vessel can catch twelve tons of fish per haul and its owners say (when it is operating) it supplies around ten per cent of the fish sold in British fish and chip shops. However, the Kirkella has not been fishing in almost a year since the UK lost the rights to fish in Norwegian waters as part of the Brexit deal. Now a new deal with Norway has been signed which will allow British fishermen to access Norwegian waters while Norway will also gain access to some British fishing grounds. A total of 30,000 tons of cod, haddock and hake will be allowed to be caught as part of the deal. The UK government said that the deal represented a “strong balance” for the British and Norwegian fishing industries but UK Fisheries, the company which owns and operates the Kirkella, were furious with the new agreement. The BBC quoted a representative from UK Fisheries as saying that they were “absolutely devastated for the crew” and claimed that the new quotas would mean that the Kirkella would only be able to operate for one week. Following the news reports in the local press said that the Kirkella could be moved abroad to fish foreign waters or sold. Read more on the BBC website here.

New post-Brexit rules for commercial fishing vessels and financial boost for industry: New rules which will come into force from April we see commercial fishing boats need to land seventy per cent of their catch in British ports and have a crew which is seventy per cent British if they want to be classed as UK vessels and fish using British quotas. Under EU rules vessels only needed to show an “economic link” to be classed as British, which usually consisted of landing half of their catch in the UK. The new rules, therefore, represent a significant tightening up of the requirement to show a link to Britain and could bring in an additional £60 million of landings to coastal communities. Read more here. Furthermore, a new investment of £75 million in the UK fishing industry has been announced this month. The money will be used to modernise ports, supply lines and fish processing facilities as well as create new jobs and upskill existing workers. Read more here.

Mining of the ocean floor could begin in 2023: A story in this month’s i newspaper said that the controversial practice to being mining of the ocean floor could begin in 2023, despite the huge amount of criticism levelled at the plans. Multiple nations are meeting in Jamaica this month to set out a timeline for ocean floor mining, with the 2023 start date likely to be confirmed. Seabed mining companies say that the ocean floor is rich in metals such as nickel, cobalt and copper which are increasing in demand as they are used in electronic devices and the batteries in electric cars. Miners claim that only the top few centimetres of seabed sediment will be removed, and this type of mining is less damaging than conventional land-based mining. Scientists, conservation groups and marine charities have hit out at the plans, with many claiming it is impossible to predict the impact that mining will have on deep-water environments and ecosystems. Marine biologist Dr Diva Amon said in the i newspaper: “There is a danger that we could be rushing forward into this part of the planet that we know so little about … We just don’t have the answers to make a decision about whether this will be catastrophically impactful.” The meetings in Jamaica are scheduled to take place over two weeks, and current regulations mean that a minimum two-year time period would have to elapse before any mining could begin, making the 2023 start date the earliest possible. Click here to read more on this story.

EU and UK reach fishing agreement, but French fishermen still unhappy: A trade war between the EU and the UK has been averted after more licences were issued to French fishing vessels. Eighty-three licences were issued before a deadline set by the EU. The EU’s fishing commissioner Virginijus Sinkevi?ius said “I think it was a very important step achieved last night and I’m thankful to the UK that they respected a deadline that we set.” The French fishing industry was, however, not satisfied with the number of additional licences issued. The Committee of Maritime Fisheries of Hauts-de-France was quoted in the Guardian as saying their industry felt “both betrayed by the British government … and neglected by the European Commission.” Threats were once again made to blockade goods from Britain reaching France, with the Committee saying: “Movements will be expected, movements which will target the import of British products.” Click here to read more on this story.

Issuing more fishing licences is ‘environmental vandalism’: An opinion piece in this month’s Telegraph argued that the damage commercial fishing does to the marine environment and the overall health of the planet is not publicised widely enough. The article, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the international business editor of the Telegraph, said of the debate and discussion around fishing rights and quotas fails to highly the environmental destruction and damage which is caused by commercial fishing. Highlighting the dispute between the UK and France over licences to fish in the waters of Jersey, Ambrose said it seems as if the arguments between the two nations were taking place in a “parallel universe” where the status quo [of using damaging fishing methods] can continue indefinitely. Ambrose said that industrial trawling of inshore waters was simply a case of “quick profit for those who pillage first” and the UK was actually going backwards when it came to protecting delicate and vulnerable inshore habitats. Across the UK there is no general ban on trawling inshore waters, while a ban in Scotland was in place for almost one hundred years but was repealed in the 1980s. Poorer countries have been much more proactive in protecting their own marine environments. Belize has banned seabed trawling in the entire 200-mile exclusive economic zone they control, and even Jair Bolsanaro, the authoritarian leader of Brazil, has banned seabed trawling within thirty nautical miles of the nation’s coast. A further issue – and one which is set to become increasingly significant in the coming years – is the amount of CO2 which is released by trawling. Carbon is stored in the seabed and released when trawls are dragged over it. Scientists now calculate that commercial fishing releases around 1.5 gigatons annually – roughly the same as the entire global aviation industry. Ambrose argues that the fate of Europe’s marine habitats and species, many of which are overfished and endangered, will have to become central to arguments and debates over commercial fishing. Read the full article by clicking here.

Walruses, pufferfish and humpback whales all observed in UK waters this year: An article in this month’s Guardian has revealed the range of rare and unusual species that have been seen in UK waters this year. More than seventy-five sightings of humpback whales have been made in British waters since 2019, walruses have been seen in Northumberland and the Shetland Islands and pufferfish have been found off the coast of Cornwall. Additionally, white-beaked dolphins have also returned to the coast of Essex for the first time in twenty years and oysters are now present in multiple locations around the coastline of Britain. Other projects have seen seagrass beds expand and attract seahorse species and kelp forests restored. As well as this good news there are also major threats facing the UK’s marine ecosystems. Human disturbances caused by jet skis and motorboats can harm marine mammals and abandoned commercial fishing equipment can lead to whales becoming trapped. Read more on this story by clicking here.

‘Game of Trawls’ smart nets may allow non-target fish to be released from commercial trawl nets: Smart trawl nets may allow fish to be sorted in nets before they are brought to the surface, saving millions of tons of bycatch every year. The project is known as Game of Trawls and is being developed by the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea along with several partner organisations. The project will see nets fitted with sensors and cameras to allow trawler crews to see a real-time picture of the species they are catching. If the fish are not the target species or one which the fishermen have no quota for, the vessel can stop fishing for them and a trap within the net can be opened to allow the fish to escape. Currently, commercial trawlers have little way of telling what species they are catching and low-value fish, or those which they have no quota to retain, and released back into the sea dead as bycatch. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates that a quarter of all catches – around 20 million tons of fish each year – are discarded as bycatch or otherwise thrown away. Read more on this story by clicking here.