February 2022 – News

Super-trawler loses over 100,000 fish: FV Margiris – the world’s second-largest trawler – has shed over 100,000 fish off the coast of France. The huge loss was said to be caused by a rupture in the vessel’s nets, with the owners of the Margiris stating that this was a “very rare occurrence.” The fish lost from the Dutch-owned, Lithuanian-flagged pelagic (midwater) trawler were believed to be blue whiting and covered an area of 3,000 square metres (32,300 sq ft). The 142-metre long vessel is controversial. It was expelled from Australian waters in 2012 after a political row over the damage it would do to the nation’s fish stocks and made the news in Britain after it was seen operating in the English Channel in 2019 and then off the coast of North Yorkshire in 2020. Read more on this story by clicking here.

‘Undisputed’ UK great white shark sightings are not what they seem: This month a number of newspapers and websites including the Sun, the Star, Timeout, the Express and local media outlets reported that a great white shark had been spotted off the coast of Sussex. James Venn, a web designer from Goring, photographed what looked like a triangular fin just thirty yards from the shore. Graeme Pullen, an experienced shark angler, was quoted in the Sun saying “Analysing the photo it is obviously a shark – this can’t be disputed.” He went on to say that the cold temperature of the water was likely to rule out a mako shark, meaning that there was a high probability that it was a great white. Read the full Sun article by clicking here. However, a few days later the claims that the fin in the picture was that of a great white shark were widely disputed. An article on the Sussex World website stated that staff at Littlehampton Harbour had identified the ‘fin’ as the tip of an outfall pipe. The pipe was partially submerged at that stage of the tide and is a known hazard to shipping and is marked by a buoy which is visible in the photo. Read the full Sussex World article by clicking here. The Sun ran another story later in the month which again suggested that a great white shark could be present off the coast of Sussex. A headless dolphin body was found on the beach at Goring-by-Sea, a short distance from where the shark fin/outfall pipe picture was taken earlier in the month, with the paper suggesting that a shark had killed The Sun reported that the find had locals scared that a great white shark was indeed present, but also reported that Paul Cox of the Shark Trust was “not so sure” that the dolphin was killed by a great white shark. Cox said “We’ve had many cases in the past where people have seen stranded marine mammals with injuries that are assumed to be [shark] bites. Quite often injuries are incurred post-mortem and from scavengers. Even birds and crabs can do a lot of damage.” Read the story on the Sun website by clicking here.

Commercial fishing alliance seeks to stop trawling limits: An alliance of fishing groups from fourteen nations will fight against curbs on trawling in EU waters which could be implemented by the European Commission. In an action plan which was initially released in 2020, the European Commission said that it would bring in any restrictions necessary to restore and protect the EU’s marine environment, including limiting trawling of the seabed. New measures set to be announced this spring could see most forms of damaging commercial fishing banned within protected marine areas after a petition backing this move gained over 150,000 signatures. The EU’s fishing industry has now hit back by forming the European Bottom Fishing Alliance (EBFA) to fight against any trawling bans and has claimed that seabed trawling is “very sustainable” as it complies with current EU fishing regulations. They have also claimed that limiting trawling could see fish prices rise which would turn fish into a “luxury food”. Rebecca Hubbard of the Our Fish campaigning group said that the alliance was carrying out a “defence of the indefensible”, while Nicolas Fournier of Oceana, the world’s largest marine conservation organisation said “If we are to seize this opportunity to tackle bottom-trawling, it’s basically now or never.” Read more on this story by clicking here.

Seabed trawling in protected UK areas continues to increase: Analysis carried out by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has shown that trawling within British Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) has continued to increase since Britain left the EU, despite government promises to clamp down on the practice. The MCS found that destructive fishing practices such as trawling and dredging had increased within the Dogger Bank protected area from an average of 1,700 hours a year between 2015 and 2018 to 5,500 hours a year in 2020 and 2021. Almost one-quarter of British waters have been designated as MPAs, but in 97 per cent of the zones commercial fishing is still permitted. Others allow other destructive practices to be carried out such as dredging for shellfishing and drilling for oil and gas. The Guardian reported that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that new laws would be introduced which would restrict trawling in MPAs, but no timescale was given as to when the laws would be implemented. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Ocean Cleanup Project accused of faking plastic removal: The beleaguered Ocean Cleanup Project has been accused of faking images of plastic waste being removed from the sea after critics claimed that the rubbish was too clean and did not contain any bycatch. The Ocean Cleanup Project shared the footage on their Twitter account and said that 3810kg (8400lbs) of plastic had been removed from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. However, marine scientists said that the cleanness of the plastic waste and the lack of barnacles, seaweed and other small creatures was “odd” and “raised eyebrows”, especially as most of the plastic had supposedly been in the sea for between ten and thirty years. Trevor Branch, a fisheries scientist at the University of Washington told Newsweek that “The plastic they picked up, most of which they say is 10 to 30 years old, is so clean and free of the organisms that usually grow very quickly on anything in the ocean … although I am not an expert in biofouling, others had similar questions.” David Shiffman, a marine biologist at Arizona State University added that “[the plastic is] Too brightly coloured, nothing is growing on it, and they didn’t catch anything but plastic.” Ocean Cleanup strongly denied that the footage was in any way fake, saying that the lack of nutrients in that part of the Pacific Ocean meant that little algae or barnacles formed on plastic, and other sections of plastic stuck out of the sea, meaning that UV light would prevent anything from growing on the plastic and keep it looking relatively clean. The Ocean Cleanup Project was founded by Dutch Teenager Boyan Slat in 2013. It initially planned to plastic pollution from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch using huge booms many miles long but has suffered from setbacks and has significantly scaled down its ambitions in recent years. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Lego lost off Cornwall still washing up on the shore today: An article in this week’s i newspaper looked at the story of lego which was lost off the coast of Cornwall. Despite being lost twenty-five years ago the plastic bricks are continuing to wash up on the Cornish coastline to this day, highlighting how enduring plastic is once it is in the sea. The lego was lost when the container ship Tokio Express ran into a storm twenty miles off the coast of Land’s End in 1997. The ship shed sixty-two containers, one of which contained millions of individual pieces of lego. Many of the pieces were sea-themed and included seagrass, octopuses and life jackets. Many local people began collecting the lego and decades on pieces are still being found. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Report into crab, lobster and shellfish deaths disputed: Late last year it was reported that thousands of small sea creatures – mostly crabs and lobsters – had washed up dead across Teesside beaches. The issue was raised in the House of Commons by Redcar MP Jacob Young, and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) said they were investigating the incident with the highest urgency. Pollution, commercial fishing and dredging in the mouth of the River Tees were all considered as possible causes for the mass die-off. After investigations have been completed Defra, who worked alongside the Marine Management Organisation, the Food Standards Agency and the Environment Agency, have stated that a naturally-occurring algal bloom was the cause of the deaths. This news can be read here. However, an expert on pollution has disputed these findings. Tim Deere-Jones, an environmental pollution researcher with more than thirty year’s experience, worked with Whitby Fishermen’s Association and used a freedom of information request to access and analyse Environment Agency data. He claims that crab samples showed the chemical pyridine – an anti-corrosion agent – was present at a level more than seventy times higher than should be expected. Mr Deere-Jones was quoted on the BBC News website as saying: “We had a very feeble attempt to suggest it was an algal bloom but I debunked that quite quickly” and went on to say “Apart from being astonished that nobody picked up that this one chemical was there in such quantities, I was astonished that nobody suggested that there be further work”. When asked about the presence of pyridine by the BBC, the Environment Agency said that the chemical was not present in the water of sediment samples they collected but was present in crab tissue. They went on to say that this was “Likely to be linked to biological processes and not necessarily from the environment.” Read more on this here. Later in the month more dead crabs and lobsters were found washed up on beaches in and around Teesside. Defra said that further samples would be taken to investigate the new outbreak of dead sea creatures, but the BBC reported that local fishermen did not believe that a natural algal bloom had led to the deaths of the creatures, with local fisherman Adrian Noble saying that the lack of crustaceans in the area had “decimated” the industry and some fishermen were having to rely on food banks due to their reduced income. Read more on this by clicking here.

Scottish skate nursery set for greater protection: Nursery areas where large numbers of skate eggs have been found are set to be given greater protection. Skate were once relatively common around the coastline of the British Isles but overfishing and habitat destruction has seen their numbers fall to the extent that they are now classed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, meaning they are at imminent risk of extinction in the wild. The nursery areas have been found in the Red Rocks and Longay areas off the coastline of the Isle of Skye in March 2021, and were given temporary Marine Protected Area status. This protection, which would stop commercial fishing, diving and construction in the area, now looks set to be indefinitely extended. Click here to read more on this story.

Extreme ocean temperatures ‘passed the point of no return in 2014’: A team of scientists have released research that has found that extreme temperatures in the world’s seas and oceans are now commonplace, and temperatures are set to continue rising in the coming years. The team, from Monterey Bay Aquarium in the USA, analysed sea temperatures going back 150 years. They found that extreme temperatures which occurred just 2 per cent of the time a century ago have happened 50 per cent of the time since 2014. They pinpointed 2014 as the “point of no return” as it was the first time that temperatures did not fall back again after reaching extreme levels. The research was published in the Plos Science journal, and Kyle Van Houtan, one of the authors, said “We’ve shown that climate change is not something that is uncertain and may happen in the distant future – it’s something that is a historical fact and has occurred already … Extreme climate change is here, it’s in the ocean, and the ocean underpins all life on Earth.” Read more on this story by clicking here.

Marine Management drops boulder case against Greenpeace: Greenpeace has been found not guilty of any offences after the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) took legal action against them for dropping boulders in the North Sea. In 2020 Greenpeace dropped the boulders in an attempt to stop seabed trawlers operating in the Dogger Bank, saying the action had to be taken as the Dogger Bank is supposedly protected from seabed trawling, but commercial vessels are still permitted to operate in the area. The MMO claimed the actions were illegal, but it was announced that the organisation offered no evidence when the case came to court this month, resulting in Greenpeace being found not guilty. The judge reprimanded the MMO saying “The parties, in this case, should be allies, not antagonists … It touches on the absurd that this litigation is happening at all.” In response, the MMO said that it was “very exceptional” that they made the decision to offer no evidence, and they would “Consider enforcement actions in line with our published compliance and enforcement strategy” if Greenpeace decided to take the same action again. The MMO did not declare how much taking the legal action had cost, but the Guardian estimated that it was in the tens of thousands of pounds. Read more on this story here.

Newlyn trawler brings in record haul: A trawler working out of Newlyn has brought in a record haul. The Enterprise caught £87,353 worth of fish on an eight-day voyage from the Cornish port. The 43-metre long beam trawler broke the previous record by over £11,000 with a catch of Dover and lemon sole, haddock and red mullet. Click here to read more.