February 2017 – News

The Guardian, Brexit and Fishing: The Guardian cast doubt on Britain taking back its fishing ground post Brexit, claiming that they had seen evidence that Britain’s “exit agreement” to leave the EU would include the stipulation that there would be “no increase to the UK’s share of fishing opportunities for jointly fished stocks [maintaining the existing quota distribution in UK and EU waters].” Taking back control of the UK’s fishing grounds was a major claim of the pro-leave lobby, with Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson both repeatedly stated that regaining control of fisheries would be a major advantage of leaving the European Union. The fishing industry across the UK (including in otherwise hugely pro-remain Scotland) campaigned overwhelmingly to leave the EU. The European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy has been blamed for being wasteful, unfair and damaging to fish stocks across Europe, with British fishermen only able to catch a small proportion of fish in British waters, as UK fish stocks have to be shared with all other EU nations. In August 2016 UKIP leader Nigel Farage (himself a keen angler) said on Twitter that fishing would be an “acid test” of Brexit. Failure to hand back control of British waters to British fishermen would be hugely controversial and would be seen as the UK government yet again selling out the fishing industry to allow UK access to other parts of the EU, such as the single market. Many in the commercial fishing industry have been concerned at Theresa May’s reluctance to mention fishing in any of her Brexit speeches, with many fearing that the government may indeed be planning to allow other EU countries access to UK fishing grounds in return for some other concessions. Read the full Guardian article by clicking here.

Bass Bycatch Rules Clarified: Last month the new restrictions on bass fishing for both commercial and recreational fishers came into force. Rod and line anglers are only allowed to fish for bass on a catch and release basis for the first half of 2017, and then only retain one bass per angler per day for the rest of the year. Commercial fishermen using hook and line are able to catch ten tons of bass per year, while other forms of commercial fishing are not allowed to target bass, although there are allowed to retain 250kg of bass bycatch. This bycatch allowance has proved controversial since it only applies to bass which have been genuinely and unavoidably caught when targeting other species. However, Welsh and English fisheries ministers caused consternation in the angling and conservation communities by referring to the 250kg as a “provision” for bass, suggesting that it commercial fishermen were free to catch bass up to this amount. The Angling Trust contacted the European Commission who confirmed that the 250kg was only for unavoidable and genuine bass bycatch. The Angling Trust then wrote to the fisheries ministers in England and Wales who publicly confirmed that the 250kg allowance was indeed only for bass which had been inadvertently caught as bycatch and not an allowance. Read more on this here.

Great White Shark in UK Waters?: A “half eaten” seal was washed up on a Norfolk beach this month, sparking fears (in the Daily Mail at least) that a great white shark could be present in British waters. A couple out walking along the beach at Great Yarmouth found the body of the seal which they said had been “chewed up” leading to the speculation that a great white shark could have been the culprit. This was further strengthened by the fact a mauled body of a harbour porpoise was found on a nearby beach several months ago. However, the Shark Trust were less convinced that a great white shark was responsible, pointing out that there has yet to be a verified sighting of a great white shark in UK waters, and another species of shark or a ships propeller of even nets could have caused the damage to the seal. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Wars Over Fishing a Real Possibility?: An opinion piece in the Guardian this month said that overfishing was a threat to humanity as well as the oceans. Dermot O’Gorman of the World Wildlife Fund Australia said that overfishing, often with destructive fishing methods, had led to marine populations across the world declining by 49% over the course of a single generation. When this is combined with a global population which is set to rise to nine billion by the year 2050 and global demand for seafood set to increase by another fifty million tons by 2025. With hundreds of millions of people around the world relying on fish and seafood as their primary source of protein this represents a major challenge for the world. Read the full article by clicking here. However, the message in the Independent was even more worrying. The paper reported that global ‘fish wars’ could break out due to competition for fisheries between nations. Conflicts over fisheries are nothing new – Britain and Iceland fought three separate cod wars between the 1950s and the 1970s, Spain and Canada come close to combat over the right to fish for turbot in the mid-1990s and there is an on-going mackerel dispute between Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the EU. The Independent warns that such conflicts could become more common as increased fishing intensity combines with dwindling fish stocks, climate change (making fish move and change migratory patterns) and increasing nationalism to create conditions which could spark conflict. While this could take the form of a trade war in some countries where the populations have no choice other than to catch fish to survive the consequences could be a lot more serious. Read the full story here.

Overfishing Costs World Economy $80billion a Year: A study by the World Bank has calculated that overfishing costs the global economy around $80billion a year. It was calculated that the wasted work-hours, fuel, technology and effort used to track down diminishing fish stocks across the world cost tens of billions of dollars – money which could be saved if fish stocks were allowed to replenish. Allowing fish stocks to recover would mean that more fish could be caught with less effort, leading to more productive fisheries and bigger profits for commercial fishermen. The study reported that fisheries would reach this level within five years if all fishing was stopped for five years, or thirty years if commercial fishing was reduced by five percent a year. Read more on this story by clicking here.

EU To Curb Illegal African Fishing: An article in the Guardian this month reported that the European Parliament had voted overwhelmingly to crack down on illegal fishing in African waters. New measure will be brought in to help curb illegal activities and protect fish stocks which many African subsistence fishermen rely on to survive. The Guardian reported that as many African nations lack any form of navy or coastguard European fishing vessels can slip into African waters, catch huge amounts of fish and then disappear before anyone has been able to apprehend them. The fish are then sold on international markets. Some of the measures which will be brought in include an electronic register of vessels which are authorised to fish in African waters, restrictions on changing the flag a vessel sails under and banning vessels involved in “serious infringements” over the last twelve months from fishing abroad. Another major change may be that the EU can take action against vessels and fishermen which national governments have chosen not to punish. The article lists the example of Italian and Lithuanian vessels being arrested for illegal fishing and then continuing to fish as the governments of the two nations failed to take action against them. While the suggested laws are good news it may take a long period of time before they are actually put into action, especially if they involve taking power away from national governments. The commercial fishing industry is also objecting to a number of the measures. Furthermore, anyone with knowledge of European vessels fishing in African waters will know that much of the most damaging fishing takes place perfectly legally, with the EU cutting deals with impoverished African nations such as Mauritania to allow huge European super-trawlers to fish in their waters. Read more on this story by clicking here.

The Case For Rewilding the Seas: The prominent environmentalist George Monbiot made the case for ‘rewilding’ the seas around the British Isles this month. Writing in the Guardian he described the “rich, raw and thrilling” feelings experienced when witnessing basking sharks and sunfish while kayaking off the coast of Scotland. He stated that experiences like this could be common if – as scientists and campaigners recommend – 30% of Britain’s seas were protected, instead of the 0.01% which currently are. Read the full article by clicking here.

Call For Microplastics Cosmetics Ban: The forthcoming ban on microbeads must be extended to include cosmetic products, according to campaigners. There are already laws being drawn up to ban the tiny pieces of plastic from being used in rinse–off products such as facial washes and body scrubs due to the immense damage that they do to the marine environment once they find their way into the sea. However, cosmetic products from major international brands such as L’Oreal and Max Factor including lipsticks, eye shadow and mascara will be exempt from the ban. This is because the products use plastics as a binding agent or to add bulk or texture to the product. Campaigners, such as the campaign group Flora & Fauna, say that these plastics are just as damaging as the tiny beads used in rinse-off products, but the manufacturers claim that they should not be treated in the same way and should be exempt from the ban. Read more on this story here.

Mako Shark Sets Distance Record: A tagged mako shark has set a new record for distance travelled after it was recorded as covering 13,000 miles in twenty months. The shark was fitted with a satellite tag off the coast of Maryland on the east coast of the USA, allowing researchers to closely track its movements. In the first year of being tagged the shark moved northwards along the US coast, before returning south almost to the point where it was originally tagged. In the second year it moved east, almost reaching the Bermuda Islands before returning to North America and heading towards Nova Scotia. The shark also followed expected seasonal behaviour by moving out to deep, offshore water in the cold winter months but moving much nearer to land during the summer. The distance covered – equivalent to travelling half way around the world – has surprised scientists and researchers who hope that the information gathered can be used to inform shark research and conservation. The researchers also stated that twenty-two per cent of the mako sharks they fit with a satellite tag are caught and killed by fishermen, with somewhere between 70 and 100 million sharks being killed by humans every year on a worldwide basis. Read more on this story here.

Whale Stranding in New Zealand: Hundreds of whales have died in Golden Bay, New Zealand in what is thought to have been the worst mass stranding in the country in decades. Over 400 pilot whales were found beached, with residents in the local area being urged to drop work and education commitments to come to the beach and help save the whales. Volunteers brought towels, buckets and blankets to cover the whales and keep them cool as overheating is the main cause of death in beached whales. While a number of the whales were refloated many beached themselves again, and volunteers were only able to try and refloat the whales when the tide was high. The cause of the mass stranding has not yet been established, but it is believed that the combination of vast, expansive sands and shallow water make Golden Bay particularly difficult for whales to swim out of once they have entered. Furthermore, once one whale is stranded others may want to stay near to it and end up getting beached themselves. It is estimated that around 300 of the whales which entered Golden Bay ended up dead. Read more on this story in the Guardian by clicking here. The BBC also ran a follow up article on this story, looking at Golden Bay and what makes it so dangerous for whales. Read this article here.

Record Scottish Dolphin Sightings: In happier news for marine mammals last year has turned out to be one of the best for the numbers of dolphins spotted off Scotland’s west coast. The Mull-based Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust recorded over 2000 sightings of common dolphins as well as the highest number of sightings of bottlenose dolphins and Risso’s dolphins. A spokesman for the trust said that dolphins were sighted in groups of several hundred, and the high number of dolphin sightings was a sign that the whole ecosystem was doing well. Read the BBC article on this story by clicking here.

Cod and Haddock Price Rise: The price of popular food fish such as cod and haddock are likely to rise in the UK in the coming months, putting jobs in the fish supply and processing industries at risk. A number of factors are thought to be causing the price rise including the declining value of the British pound, a strike by Icelandic fishermen and a delayed start to the Norwegian fishing season. Britain, and indeed the entire EU, needs to import large amounts of fish every year, as British and European waters are no longer capable of supplying enough fish to meet demand. This means that non-EU countries such as Iceland and Norway – both of which can still control their own waters and fisheries and therefore have the most abundant fish stocks in Europe – supply much of the fish which EU citizens eat. The reduction in the availability of fish from these countries has pushed up prices, with the price of Norwegian cod going up 40 – 50%. The falling value of the pound against currencies such as the Icelandic krona means that it also costs UK fish merchants more to buy cod on international wholesale markets. Read more about this story by clicking here.

Epic Journey of Supermarket Salmon: The Daily Mail reported this month that salmon on sale in supermarkets may have travelled 22,000 miles before it is purchased by UK consumers. The journey begins when salmon is caught in the North Pacific Ocean off the coast of Alaska where it is gutted and frozen. It is then transferred to a major US transport hub – usually Seattle – where it is loaded onto container ships which then take it all of the way across the Pacific Ocean to China for processing. Once this is done the processed salmon then begins the journey to Europe across the Arabian Sea, through the Suez Canal and across the Mediterranean Sea. Once in Europe the salmon will be sent to a European transport hub, most likely in the Netherlands where it will eventually be sent to a UK port, often Immingham or Felixstowe where it will then be sent to a fish processing factory where it will be turned into fish cakes, read meals or another form of frozen product. Because the salmon remains frozen at all times it can be stored during any part of the journey, meaning that frozen salmon UK consumers eat may be over eighteen months old. Furthermore, because it is turned into a ready meal or other product in the UK it can be labelled ‘produce of Britain’ as under UK law products are the produce of the place where the last significant part of the process took place. Scotland has a thriving salmon industry (although there are major issues with disease, pollution, parasites and cruelty in salmon farming, as well as problems with seal culling to protect salmon farms) but this cannot produce enough to meet the demand for one of the UK’s favourite fish. Furthermore, farmed salmon sold to consumers fresh is much more expensive than the frozen variety. The fact that much of the salmon eaten in the UK has travelled a distance almost equivalent to circumnavigating the globe may come as a surprise to consumers who may ask questions about the carbon footprint generated by such a journey. However, the salmon processing industry maintains that catching salmon in American waters and then sending it to China before sending it to the UK via the Netherlands is the best and most efficient way of getting a quality product to UK consumers. Read the full story in the Daily Mail by clicking here.

Could Technology Solve Plastic Pollution Problems?: The problem plastic pollution across the world’s seas and oceans has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Indeed, some news story mentioning plastic pollution has been featured in the news section of this website almost every month for the last year or so, and scientists predicting that the amount of plastic in the oceans will outweigh fish by the year 2050. However, technology may at last be able to offer a solution. A new process called pyrolysis has been developed by scientists at Warwick University in the UK. This process “cracks” plastic into more basic molecules which can be used to make fuel, or be turned back into useful forms of plastic. A company set up by the university has already opened a large plant in Swindon, Wiltshire which they say will be able to process the plastic waste generated by the whole town. Such technology could mean that instead of being thrown into landfill or the sea plastic will become a valuable and recyclable resource, going a long way to solving the issue of waste plastic being thrown into the seas and oceans. While the technology is still in its early stages it is encouraging to see the ways in which technology may be able to help resolve the issue of plastic pollution. Read more on this story here.

Scottish Salmon Sea Lice Crisis: The issue of salmon in Scottish fish farms which we reported on last month shows no sign of abating, with output continuing to fall and prices continuing to rise. Worldwide production of farmed salmon is down by 7% year on year, with the industry now admitting it has a major problem and spending around £30 million a year to try and find a resolution. The proportion of Scottish fish farms affected by sea lice went from 28% in 2014 to 49% in 2015. Warming sea temperatures are making sea lice more common, and while chemicals have been used to treat sea lice in the past, many types of lice are becoming increasingly resistant. Warm water treatments are also used to remove sea lice from salmon, but this is expensive and one fish farm inadvertently killed tens of thousands of salmon last month when something went wrong with this kind of treatment. Read the full story on the BBC website by clicking here.

Australian Fishmonger Lobster Cruelty Conviction: A fishmonger firm in Sydney has become the first to be convicted of animal cruelty charges over its treatment of lobsters. Workers were observed separating lobsters tails from their bodies while the animals were still alive – something which would have caused “immense pain” and contravened New South Wale’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Lobsters have been covered by the act since 1997 as research revealed that they have complex central nervous systems and their behaviour shows that they do feel pain. In order to stay on the right side of the law the workers of the company should have immersed the lobsters in icy water for twenty minutes as this leads to the nervous system shutting down, or cut the lobsters long ways as this results in instant death and minimal suffering. The company was fined $1500 AUD. Read the full story in the Guardian by clicking here.

Pollution Found in Deepest Part of Ocean: The Mariana Trench in the north west Pacific is the deepest known part of the world’s ocean, reaching a maximum-known depth of 10,994 metres, but scientists have found that man-made chemicals are present there. The discovery was made when Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University in the UK carried out research at the Marina Trench. A submersible captured small crustaceans which live in the pitch-black depths, and when they were analysed at the surface they were found to contain much higher levels of toxins than the scientists expected. The discovery is deeply concerning at so much of the ocean’s deepest areas has yet to be uncovered, and there is now the threat that human activity may pollute, and even destroy, these places before we have even had a chance to study them. In another study a tin of the luncheon meat Spam was discovered on one of the slopes of Sirena Deep, an area near to the Mariana Trench which is almost 5,000 metres below the surface, showing the depths pollution can reach. Read the full article in the Guardian by clicking here.

Nurdle Pollution Epidemic: A survey has found a shocking amount of plastic nurdles across UK beaches, leading to fears over the impact they will have on the marine environment. Nurdles are small pellets of plastic which are used as the raw material in the manufacture of plastic products. As there is so much demand for plastic, nurdles are shipped around the world in huge quantities, with many millions ending up in the sea due to poor shipping methods or industrial practices. A survey of 279 beaches across the UK found that nurdles were present on 73% of sites visited, with one 100 metre stretch of a beach in Cornwall containing 127,500 individual nurdles. Nurdles are a major environmental hazard as they attract an absorb chemicals which are present in the world’s seas and oceans, and with many fish species mistaking nurdles for food these chemicals can then be transferred into fish. Furthermore nurdles themselves break down into much smaller microplastics which are hugely damaging the marine environment. It is estimated that more than fifty billion nurdles could escape into the UK’s marine environment every year. Read the full BBC article by clicking here.

Oxygen Depletion Threatens Oceans: The Guardian reported this month that an internationally respected ocean research institute had found worrying evidence of oxygen depletion in the world’s seas and oceans. The Geomar Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Germany found that oxygen levels across the world’s oceans had fallen by 2% between 1960 and 2010. While this may not sound like much it could have serious consequences for marine life, as fish and other marine creatures avoid seas with low oxygen levels, meaning there could be major changes to migration patterns and the areas fish inhabit. Furthermore, smaller species which are not capable of migrating may die, having huge knock on effects for wider marine ecosystems and food chains. The fall in oxygen levels is linked to climate change and the authors of the report warn that if left unchecked oxygen depletion could reach 7% by the year 2100 – a level at which most marine animals would struggle to survive. Read the Guardian’s article on this story by clicking here.

Bleak Future for Deep Sea Life: The Guardian also reported that deep sea creatures across the world may be facing a bleak future due to the impact of human activities. The deep sea is home to many species and is certain to contain many new species which humans have yet to discover. However, the combination of warming seas, ocean acidification, oxygen depletion and human activities such as deep sea fishing, seabed mining and oil and gas drilling are taking a heavy toll on deep sea ecosystems. A report by some of the world’s leading experts in this field states that by the year 2100 the amount of food reaching the deep sea could be reduced by 55%, starving many of the creatures which live there. Read the full story here.

Bizarre Mystery Sea Creature Identified: Images of a massive, hairy sea creature which was washed up on a beach in the Philippines went viral across the world this month, as people tried to identify exactly what it was. The body of the animal was over six metres long and estimated to weigh over 4000lbs and was covered in what looked like long white hair. It washed up after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake with many speculating that some new species may have been discovered. However, it was eventually established that it was the carcass of a whale which had turned white due to advanced decomposition. Read more are see pictures by clicking here.

Surfing Champion Calls for Shark Cull: Kelly Slater, an American professional surfer who has won multiple world championships, sparked controversy this month when he called for a daily shark cull off the coast of Réunion, an island located in the Indian Ocean which is an overseas region of France. Bull sharks live and feed in the waters around Réunion in such high numbers that surfing is banned around most of the island, with only two beaches protected by nets allowing surfing. However, Slater and fellow professional surfer Jeremy Flores (who grew up on Réunion) has claimed that sharks need to be culled to protect surfers. Their calls come after a body boarder was killed off the coast of Réunion when a bull shark bit through an artery in his leg. The demand for a cull was met with consternation and outrage by shark experts and conservationists. Read the full story by clicking here.

Trawler Catches Unexploded Grenade: A Scottish trawler fishing out of Stranraer dragged up World War Two era munitions in its nets this month, including an unexploded grenade. The boat was heading back towards harbour when it brought in its nets and made the discovery, and immediately radioed ahead to explain the situation to the staff at the port. It was arranged for the boat to be left moored outside the harbour overnight while bomb disposal experts were called. A controlled explosion was carried out the next day. Read more and see pictures on the BBC News website by clicking here.

Police Issue Whale Warning: Police issued a warning for members of the public to stay away from a humpback whale which had come unusually close to the Devon coast. The whale, which was believed to be with a calf, came to within fifteen metres of the shore in Start Bay. While there were fears that the whale may beach itself it did move back into deeper water. The police stated that it was fine to watch the whale from the shore but it was an offence to harass the whale, and anyone approaching it in a boat could be prosecuted. The also stated that a fisheries protection vessel was in the area monitoring the situation. Humpback whales can reach twenty metres in length and weigh over thirty tons. Once extremely rare in British waters sightings have been increasing in recent years. Read more on the BBC News website here.

Concern Over Edible Fish Used for Fishmeal: The vast majority of fish which are used for fishmeal – high protein pellets which are used to feed livestock – are species which could be used to feed humans. While many people believe that only tiny inedible fish, or the heads and entrails of valuable fish are used to make fishmeal a study by the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Ocean and Fisheries has found that 90% of the fish used to create fishmeal could be eaten by humans. One of the reasons this is not done is that in many cases commercial fishermen can make more by selling the fish they catch to fishmeal plants rather than the public. There is concern that stocks of fish are being diminished in order to feed livestock, a major issue in parts of the world where people rely on fish in order to survive. There are now calls for the fishmeal industry to only use the waste products of fish, and not use edible fish for fishmeal. Read more by clicking here.