February 2021 – News

Big game tuna fishing to return to British waters?: An article in this month’s Independent has claimed that big game tuna fishing could once again return to the waters of the UK now that the nation has left the European Union. Fishing for bluefin tuna in the North Sea was a popular pursuit among the rich and famous between the 1920s and 1950s, with towns such as Scarborough and Whitby becoming famous for their big game fishing. Numbers of bluefin dropped from the 1950s onwards but have rebounded in the last ten years, making tuna fishing in British waters viable once again. Britain now has a small tuna quota of fifty tons and it is hoped that this could be used to revitalise coastal towns and fishing communities, even if all of the fishing for tuna is carried out on a catch-and-release basis only. Stuart Singleton-White of the Angling Trust told the Independent: “We can show real leadership on how to sustainably manage a bluefin tuna fishery and really maximize the benefit for coastal communities.” However, conservationists were more cautious with Charles Clover, Executive Director of the Blue Marine Foundation, saying “Overfishing remains a huge issue … they mustn’t add endangered tuna to the list of species we are overfishing” and the Wildlife Trust said that they did not believe that a catch-and-release policy was the right approach. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Marine reserves to receive greater protection: Two of Britain’s marine reserves – the Dogger Bank and South Dorset – are set to have their level of protection increased with seabed trawling being banned in both areas. The move was announced by the Marine Management Organisation this month. While the UK was a member of the EU it was not possible to prevent seabed trawling from taking place in either area, but having left the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy the UK has now been able to put the ban in place. A number of marine protected areas have been established around the UK in recent years but the level of protection offered in them varies with damaging practices such as trawling and dredging still allowed in most of them. This has led to marine conservation organisations criticising the government and claiming that the majority of the marine protected zones are “paper parks” – places that exist only on paper and offer no real protection. While the trawling ban on the Dogger Bank and South Dorset was welcomed by conservationists it was condemned by commercial fishing organisations such as the National Association of Fishermen’s Organisations who claimed the trawling ban was “a sledgehammer to fishing.” However, many others welcomed the ban. Charles Clover, executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation and author of the book The End of the Line said “We applaud this first step towards protecting our offshore marine protected areas, starting with the Dogger Bank, a huge and ecologically important area which has been hammered by trawls and dredges for too long.” Read the BBC’s article on this story by clicking here.

Greenpeace begins to build ‘boulder barrier’ to stop trawling: In a related story environmental activists from Greenpeace have started dropping huge boulders into an area of the English Channel knowns as Offshore Brighton in an attempt to stop seabed trawling from happening in the area. Offshore Brighton has been designated as an MPA (Marine Protected Area) but many forms of commercial fishing, including seabed trawling, are still allowed there. The activists have begun dropping the boulders – which weigh up to eighteen tons – into the area to block off trawlers and claim that around fifty-five nautical miles have now been closed off to commercial fishing. The government has been heavily criticised for promoting the expansion of the MPA scheme while still allowing damaging commercial fishing practices to take place within them. The Marine Conservation Society revealed in January that seabed trawling was still permitted in ninety-eight per cent of the UK’s designated MPAs. Greenpeace state that they will continue to take action by dropping more boulders into MPAs if they do not get greater protection from the government. Click here to read more.

British species to be renamed to make them more appealing: The long-running practice of renaming fish to make them more appealing to consumers is set to take place with two British species. Megrim, a deep water flatfish, is to be renamed as Cornish sole when it is sold, while spider crab will be known as Cornish king crab. Both species are commonly caught by commercial fishermen off the coast of south west England but are mostly exported to Europe rather than being sold in the UK. The Cornish Fish Producers Organisation is behind the move with Paul Trebilcock from the organisation telling the BBC: “There is something about the names that has negative connotations … the two species are particularly under-loved in this country but really popular with some of our export markets.” The BBC article states that ninety-eight per cent of megrim and eighty-five per cent of spider crab which is caught by Cornish fishermen are exported out of the UK. The supply chains of many commercial fishing operations have been disrupted by additional checks and paperwork that have been brought in due to the UK leaving the EU, and it is believed that rebranding the species will help them become more popular with British consumers. Rebranding species is nothing new. In the 1970s the deep sea species known as slimehead became rebranded as orange roughy, and the species known as Patagonian toothfish became a restaurant favourite (to the point where it became endangered) when it was renamed as Chilean seabass. Read more on this article by clicking here.

Boris Johnson calls for people to eat more British fish: The Prime Minister has backed calls for a campaign to encourage UK consumers to eat more British fish. Currently, species such as hake are not widely eaten by UK consumers, despite being plentiful in the waters around Britain. The campaign would encourage such species to be eaten in the UK instead of being exported. Sheryll Murray, the Conservative MP for South East Cornwall has suggested that Johnson himself could front the campaign. The Prime Minister has also called for an “action plan” to resolve the post-Brexit export problems which are affecting UK shellfish exports to Europe. Barrie Deas, the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations said that although the industry was disappointed with the Prime Ministers post-Brexit deal on fishing they welcomed a buy British campaign for UK fish species. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Argument over fish farm chemicals effects on swimmers: An argument has broken out over a Scottish fish farm’s use of pesticides and the potential effects they could have on wild swimmers. An article in this month’s Herald said that swimmers who use the waters around Kilbrannan Sound are concerned that a new fish farm being constructed by the Norwegian company Mowi will lead to the waters being polluted with chemicals. The article stated that fish farms use chemicals to control fish lice and other parasites which grow on the salmon they raise, but as SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) do not state what the safe levels of such chemicals are, swimmers have no way of knowing if they are at risk. However, the SEPA website does state that organophosphate azamethiphos, a chemical which is used by fish farms, has “acute toxicity” and “swallowing a small quantity will result in a serious health hazard.” With the Scottish government planning to expand the fish farming industry over the next decade it is feared that issues over the impact fish farms have on Scotland’s marine environment will become more prevalent in coming years. Read more on this story on the Herald website by clicking here. Following the initial article, the Herald ran an opinion piece by Hamish Macdonell, the Director of Strategic Engagement at the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation. He said that the original article made “totally unfounded claims that the occasional medicinal treatments used by farmers could be putting wild swimmers health at risk” and that chemicals were used in such low quantities that “a swimmer would have to swallow enough seawater to fill 120 full-sized Olympic swimming pools … to risk any harm from this medicine.” He went on to outline testimony from a wild swimmer who did not see a problem swimming near fish farms and also said that when it was allowed (following the coronavirus crisis) fish farms would be opened to tours to allow people to see what goes on within them. Read this article by clicking here.

Noise from human activities is damaging all marine life: An article in this month’s Guardian has stated that the noise created by human activities is damaging all forms of life across the world’s seas and oceans. The research, carried out by scientists at the University of Exeter and published in the academic journal Science, found that sounds can be as damaging as pollution, overfishing or warming seas. Military sonar and sonar used by fishing vessels can affect whales and dolphins communication meaning that they may need to live within tens of miles of each other instead of being hundreds of miles apart. However, smaller creatures can also be affected with the researchers stating: “Fish, clams, crabs and corals all hear sound and use it to find healthy places to make their home … so shipping or construction noise takes away that homing sense … we find that animals are directly stressed by noise as well, and so they make poor decisions that often lead to death.” The world-renowned marine scientist Professor Daniel Pauly from the University of British Columbia in Canada added: “Underwater noise is a serious concern and it is growing … The level of noise marine mammals are exposed to is devastating … Underwater sound waves are far more violent than sound waves in air.” Solutions could come in the form of new propellor designs which cut noise levels along with new electric motors for vessels and reductions in the speed of marine traffic. Read the full article on the Guardian website by clicking here.

Environmental damage and cost of fish farming highlighted: The damage intensive fish farming causes to marine ecosystems across the world made the news this month after a report titled Dead Loss was released by Just Economics and the Changing Markets Foundation. The report found that the pollution caused by fish farms, along with the issues of parasitic infections and fish mortality caused billions of pounds worth of damage across the world. The total cost was calculated to be around $50 billion (£36 billion) between 2013 and 2019. In the Scottish fish farming industry, which has expanded significantly in recent decades, the level of fish mortality has also risen from 3% in 2002 to 13.5% in 2019. While the industry has raised £2 billion between 2013 and 2019, the environmental damage it has caused will have cost £1.4 billion. The report also says that around twenty per cent of the world’s wild-caught fish (which works out at around 18 million tons) is used to make fish oil, most of which goes to feed farmed fish in fish farms. Despite all of these issues the fish farming industry is set for expansion with Scotland aiming to double capacity by 2030 and Norway is set to produce five times as much farmed fish by 2050. Read the full article in the Guardian here. In a related story, the Scottish fish farming industry attempted to generate some good news by claiming that sea cucumbers could be used to help clear up the pollution generated by fish farms. Uneaten food and waste which falls to the seabed from fish pens are a major cause of pollution so research by PhD students at the University of Strathclyde will examine the potential of sea cucumbers to be used in fish farms using computer modelling. Read more on this story by clicking here.