January 2017 – News

Ragworm: A Multi-Million Pound Industry?: The Independent ran an interesting article this month which pointed out that marine worms which are sold as bait constitute a £6billion industry on a worldwide basis. This figure has been reached by the demand from anglers and commercial long line fisheries – a method of commercial fishing which is becoming more common as people turn against destructive trawling of the seabed. The Independent has asked why UK businesses have so far failed to break into this market, while companies in Europe are successfully producing and exporting hundreds of tons of worms per year. Two attempts to farm ragworm on an industrial scale in Britain have ended in failure. A huge ragworm farm in Northumberland ran successfully for many years but eventually went into liquidation, while Dragon Feeds in Wales was a planned large-scale ragworm farm which opened in 2006 with over £1million in grants from the Welsh government. It was supposed to provide seventy jobs but no more than ten people ever worked there and the company went into liquidation in 2011, with arrests over allegations of fraud being made following the closure. Read the full article (which features a small contribution from Britishseafishing.co.uk) by clicking here.

New Restrictions on Bass for 2017: The new restrictions on bass fishing for both commercial and recreational fishers have now been confirmed. Commercial fishermen are largely banned for specifically fishing for bass, although they do have generous bycatch allowances to let them retain bass which have been inadvertently caught (see below for more on this). Additionally a number of areas have been closed to bass fishing during the breeding season. There are exceptions for hook and line commercial fishermen who are allowed to catch up to ten tons of bass per year to allow for the fact that they may not have any alternative species to catch. In terms of recreational anglers it is a repeat of the 2016 restrictions, with bass being a catch-and-release only species for the first half of 2017, and anglers limited to keeping one bass per day for the rest of the year. There were hopes that anglers may be able to keep up to ten bass per month. This is a measure which would have helped the charter boat industry which has seen incomes severely hit by anglers being unable to keep the bass they catch. However, this rule has not been brought in and the 2016 restrictions are effectively repeated for another year. While these restrictions show that action is being taken to protect bass there are concerns that they are not enough to restore stocks, and commercial vessels are still able to retain large amounts of bass which have been caught as bycatch. Read the regulations on the official UK government website by clicking here.

Governments Accused of Misrepresenting New Bass Rules: The English and Welsh governments have been accused of intentionally misrepresenting the new rules and restrictions on bass fishing. As the story above explains in 2017 commercial fishermen only have a quota for bass which are caught as unintentional bycatch, meaning that only bass which have been genuinely and unavoidably caught when targeting other species can be retained, and even then only up the agreed bycatch limit. However, the Angling Trust has highlighted the fact that English and Welsh fisheries ministers have interpreted the quota as being a targeted monthly catch limit. The Chief Executive of the Angling Trust has written to the fisheries ministers of the Welsh and English governments to seek clarification that they will interpret the limit as being for unavoidable bycatch only. Read more on the Angling Trust website here.

Concern At Dolphin Deaths: There has been concern over the number of dolphins which have washed up dead on Cornish beaches this year. News emerged that ten dolphins had washed up dead on beaches around Cornwall in as many days at the start of the year, and this was followed by an eleventh dolphin being found nearby with a huge “bite mark” taken out of it, although this may have been caused by a propeller or collision with a ship. By the 18th of January Cornwall Wildlife Trust announced that twenty-five dolphins had been found dead across the Cornish coastline, with the average number for this time of year being just four. There is no clear reason as to why such a large number of dolphins are washing up dead. Pollution, commercial fishing nets and shark attacks have all been put forward as reasons, but one campaigner believes that trawlers are the cause. Lindy Hingley – the founder of Brixham Seawatch who has been awarded an MBE for her services to marine conservation – said that French pair trawlers were killing dolphins as both the fishing boats and the dolphins targeted the same fish. It was also pointed out that the amount of dolphins which washed up dead on beaches was in all probability a small proportion of the number which had been killed. Read more here.

Sushi Chain Owner Buys £500,000 Tuna: The owner of a chain of Japanese sushi restaurants paid 74.2 million yen ($630,000) for the first tuna of the new year at the world-famous Tsukiji fish market. The first fish of the year always sells for a ridiculous inflated price as a successful means of attracting publicity for all parties involved. The man who bought the tuna was Kiyoshi Kimura, owner of the Sushizanmai sushi restaurant chain, with the fish costing him around $1356 per pound of bodyweight. However, the sum paid does not match the record set in 2013 when the first tuna of the year was bought for 155.4 million yen (£1.09 million). While the annual auction remains popular in Japan the future of large tuna species looks bleak. Demand for sushi is rising and the stock levels of Pacific bluefin tuna are believe to be at around 2.6% of the size they were before commercial fishing for this species began. Read more on this story and see pictures by clicking here.

Famous Killer Whale Dies: Tilikum the famous (some would say infamous) killer whale which killed three people and featured in the film Blackfish, died this month. He was caught as a calf in Icelandic waters in the early 1990s and transported to a Canadian marine theme park where he killed a 20-year old marine biology student who accidentally fell into the pool with him. He was then transported to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida where he was involved in the death of two more people, one of which was his experienced trainer Dawn Brancheau. This generated enormous amounts of bad publicity for SeaWorld, and the 2013 documentary Blackfish brought the issue of killer whales being kept in captivity further into public focus. The documentary highlighted the poor treatment of killer whales in captivity and pointed out that the number of deaths Tilikum was involved with contrasted with wild killer whales never having been found responsible for a single human death. The film also look at the issue of Tilikum – a 21 foot long, 12,500lb killer whale, who would cover distances of up to one hundred miles a day in the wild – being forced to spend his entire life in a series of tiny pools, and having to perform tricks and shows on a daily basis. The impact of the Blackfish film has been devastating for SeaWorld, which has seen reduced ticket sales, a decreasing share price and celebrity backers and sponsors distance themselves from the company. SeaWorld has responded by first stating it would build larger tanks for its killer whales. This failed to stem the tide of bad publicity leading to them announcing that they would begin phasing out their captive killer whale breeding programme and then stating that it would end live performances featuring killer whales. The new SeaWorld being built in Abu Dhabi will be the first not to feature killer whales. Tilikum died on 6th January 2017 and was believed to be thirty-five years old. The cause of death was not announced but was believed to be linked to a persistent lung condition which Tilikum had been suffering from for a number of years. Read more here.

Warming Seas Are Forcing Fish to New Waters: The Guardian reported this month that warming seas are forcing various species of fish to move from their usual areas of distribution and find new habitats. The paper reported that species such as squid, red mullet and sardines were becoming more common throughout the North Sea due to warming waters. In some cases this could be an advantage for commercial fishermen, such as Scottish fishermen being able to add valuable squid to their catches of traditional species such as cod and haddock. However, in much of the less developed world where many people rely on fish as their primary source of protein, changing distribution patterns of fish could prove devastating. A further flashpoint could take place between Britain and France and Spain as anchovy (a species usually found in warmer waters) becomes increasingly scarce in its traditional waters and more common around the British Isles. Read the full Guardian article by clicking here.

Air China To Stop Carrying Shark Fin: Air China has announced that it is to stop carrying shark fins. While shark fin has always been popular in China and is seen as being a historically important food, there is a growing movement against it, due to the immense cruelty involved in finning sharks and the declining numbers of most species. The move by China Air is significant as it shows that big business (Air China is the national flag carrier and one of the major airlines in China) are now supporting the move against shark fin. China Air have yet to announce a timescale for when they will stop carrying shark fin as cargo. Read more here.

Parasites Cause Salmon Prices to Jump: Infestations of sea lice are sending the price of salmon rocketing upwards, with wholesale prices rising by fifty per cent in some cases. The sea lice attach themselves to the skin, fins and gills of the fish and have caused production of salmon to drop in countries which are major producers of farmed salmon, such as Scotland and Norway. One fish farm inadvertently killed around 175,000 salmon when trying to rid them of parasites in a device which runs warm water over the body of the fish, while using species such as wrasse or lumpsucker as ‘cleaner fish’ to eat parasites off the bodies of the salmon has also been trialled. Despite this parasites infesting salmon looks set to continue to be a problem, with warming seas potentially making parasitic infestations of salmon more common. Read more here.

Has The Common Fisheries Policy Cost UK Fishermen £80billion?: The Sun newspaper this month claimed that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has cost UK fishermen over £80billion since it came into force in the early 1980s. This was based on the calculation of foreign fishermen taking around £3.5billion of fish from British waters every year. This happens because under Britain’s membership of the European Union UK fishing grounds are treated as a common resource, meaning that all member nations have equal access to them. This means that British fishermen can only take a 25% share of the fish from British waters – the rest has to be shared with other EU nations. British fishermen hope that leaving the European Union will mean that Britain will regain control of its territorial waters in the same way that Norway or Iceland do. These two European nations are not members of the EU, meaning they can control their own fishing grounds and have by far the richest and healthiest fishing stocks in Europe. Commercial fishermen have claimed that fishing is the “acid test” of Brexit and trading away Britain’s fishing grounds again in the Brexit negotiations would be a “betrayal” of the overwhelmingly anti-EU UK fishing industry. Read more on the Sun’s website by clicking here. It did not go unnoticed by the commercial fishing industry that British Prime Minister Theresa May failed to mention anything to do with fishing in her otherwise relatively hardline Brexit speech on 17th January – a potentially worrying sign for UK fishermen.

‘Storm Surge’ Fails to Materialise: Police and local authorities were criticised this month for hyping up the danger posed by bad weather across the south of England. People were evacuated from areas across the Essex, Norfolk and Suffolk coasts as the Environment Agency issued warnings which stated that there was a danger to life. While there was some flooding and gale force winds across many areas the predicted destruction and danger to file failed to materialise for the most part, leaving residents in many areas feeling like the actions of police and local authorities has amounted to overkill. Read more here.

New Film Highlights The Problem Of Plastic Pollution: A new feature length documentary will highlight the destruction caused by the eight million tons of plastic which are dumped in the world’s seas and oceans every year. A Plastic Ocean will look at the work of scientists, researchers and environmental campaigners as they seek to calculate the damage that humans are causing by putting so much plastic into the world’s seas and oceans. Filmed over four years and twenty locations the film aims to raise awareness of plastic pollution and make people think about the impact that plastic waste is having on the seas and oceans. Watch the trailer on YouTube by clicking here. A Plastic Ocean will only have a very limited release in cinemas, but can be streamed on iTunes and Amazon Video.

Poachers Accused of Killing Whales In Protected Area: The marine charity Sea Shepherd has claimed that Japanese poachers have killed whales in a protected zone off the Australian coast. The charity claimed that Japanese boats were seen with the harpoons covered up and dead whales hidden under a tarpaulin in an attempt to hide the fact that they had been operating in the protected area. The Japanese whaling industry kills hundreds of whales – including pregnant females – every year, often under the guise of research. There have also been calls for the Australian government to do more to stop whales being killed within its territorial waters. Read more here.

Are Mussels and Shellfish the Future of Aquaculture?: Fish farming and aquaculture are producing an ever increasing amount of seafood across the world, but problems of pollution, cruelty and disease are leading to questions over how sustainable this is. Indeed, in many places huge numbers of wild forage fish are caught to feed commercially valuable farmed fish, meaning that fish farming actually reduces the numbers of wild fish. However, this month an opinion piece in the Guardian argues that bivalves (shellfish such as mussels) may provide a solution as they have very little impact on the environment, do not require feeding with wild fish and there are no issues around cruelty when it comes to keeping them in captivity. It is argued that we should move away from destructive farming of species such as fish and prawns and instead concentrate on farming bivalves. Read the full article by clicking here.

Fishing “Made Me Realise I Was An Arsehole”: An interesting opinion piece in an Australian newspaper charts the changing opinions of a man who was once a keen angler but then changed to become anti-fishing due to the damage he was causing to the inhabitants of the sea. Dan Maio (the article does not provide any background information about him) talks of previously being a keen angler but changing his mind when faced with the damage which hooks do to fish, and also questions the effectiveness of catch and release fishing. While the article raises important points around cruelty and sustainability which all anglers have to consider, many anglers will point out that using correctly sized hooks prevents many of the injuries to fish which Maio describes. Furthermore many of the other things Maio says he did – such as standing on fish to remove the hooks or throwing fish against rocks when they are returned to the sea – are simply bad practice which no responsible anglers would do. He also talks of the seas being “barren and desolate” by 2050, without any reference to the fact that it is commercial fishing which is overwhelmingly responsible for this. Read the full article by clicking here.

Shampoo Bottle made From Waste Plastic: A limited run of Head and Shoulder’s shampoo bottles partly made from waste plastic will soon be on sale. The bottles have been manufactured with plastic recovered by volunteers on French beaches, with Head and Shoulders – part of the giant American multinational Proctor and Gamble – aiming to make around 170,000 of the bottles. While this number only represents a tiny proportion of the company’s total sales it is being seen as a sign that the company, and the cosmetics industry as a whole, is taking the issue of plastic pollution seriously. Head and Shoulder’s move follows Adidas and the clothing line G-Star, both of which have used recovered ocean plastic in their products. Read more here.

Shark Photobombs Boy’s Surfing Photograph: A dramatic photograph emerge this month as a shark was spotted just underneath the water as a boy surfed past. Chris Hasson was taking photos of his son Eden off a beach at Port Stephens in the east of Australia when he realised that the boy was in very close proximity to what is now believed to be a small great white shark. Chris immediately called his son back to the shore and Eden did not realise there had even been a shark nearby until he was back on dry land. Researchers at James Cook University in Australia viewed the photo and believe that the shark posed minimal threat to the boy and was most likely spooked by the surfboard and was performing a rolling motion to get away. Eden was not put off surfing and was back in the water the very next day. Read more and see the photo by clicking here.

Scottish Discards Ban “Not Enforced”: The World Wildlife Fund for Scotland has claimed that the discards ban on Scottish commercial fishing boats is not being properly enforced. New species such as cod and whiting have been added to the list of species which cannot now be discarded at sea, meaning they must be retained even if fishermen want to throw them back into the sea. However, the number of fishing boats carry cameras to ensure that they are complying with the ban has halved since the start of the year after an incentive to fit the cameras was ended. Helen McLachlan of the World Wildlife Fund stated that there was “significant concerns about the levels of monitoring and control of the ban.” Read the full article on the BBC news website by clicking here.