January 2019 – News

Critically endangered angel sharks found off the coast of Wales: Angel sharks – a critically endangered species which was once common in UK waters – may be present in good numbers off the coast of Wales. Angel sharks are easily identifiable by their flattened body shape which resembles that of a skate or ray. Their numbers have been decimated as the species is often caught as bycatch by commercial vessels, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature have given this species the classification of critically endangered, meaning it is at imminent risk of going extinct in the wild. While the only area in Europe with high numbers of angel sharks was thought to be the Canary Islands a study by Natural Resources Wales has highlighted the fact that there are more sightings than expected of this species off the Welsh coast. Further research is set to be carried out to find out the size and structure of any Welsh angel shark populations. Read more by clicking here.

Eels in the Thames are “hyperactive due to cocaine in waste water”: A study has found that silver eels in the River Thames are being affected by the high levels of cocaine entering the river through waste water. A team from King’s College London made the discovery after analysing water samples taken from a monitoring station near to the Houses of Parliament. Traces of cocaine may be flushed down toilets and also enter the water system through cocaine user’s urine. The researchers found that water treatment plants were ineffective at filtering out cocaine, meaning a significant amount ended up entering the Thames. Cocaine and benzoylecgonine (the main ingredient of cocaine) has been proven to make eels hyperactive and cause skeletal and muscle damage to eels. The King’s College researchers stated that the amount of cocaine found in the Thames was so high that it “lay outside of the quantifiable range.” Read more by clicking here.

DNA tests show fish and chip shops are selling endangered shark: Researchers from the University of Exeter have found that fish and chip shops, fishmongers and wholesalers are selling a range of endangered sharks, often under generic names which conceal the true species being sold. The names rock, huss, flake and rock salmon are used for species such as spurdog which is classed as endangered in European waters by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Bull huss, smooth-hounds and blue shark were also sold under those names. Wholesalers also sold shark fins which DNA analysis showed were from endangered species which are not native to the UK such as hammerhead sharks. Catherine Hobbs of the University of Exeter stated: “People might think they’re getting a sustainably sourced product when they’re actually buying a threatened species. There are also health issues. Knowing what species you are buying could be important in terms of allergies, toxins, mercury content and the growing concern over microplastics in the marine food chain.” The news has sparked calls for better labelling of shark species and a ban on the use of generic names for shark species which are sold to the public. Click here to read more.

Huge abandoned ‘ghost’ fishing net recovered from sea: A 30-metre (100ft) long commercial fishing net has been recovered from the sea at Perranporth beach in Cornwall. The net, which was either lost or abandoned by commercial fishermen, was dragged from the sea by a group of around fifteen people. As the net was estimated to weigh around half a ton a tractor was later used used to move the huge net off the beach. Abandoned and lost commercial fishing gear – known as ghost gear or ghost nets – is highly destructive as it can go on catching fish for years or even decades before it eventually breaks up. The net was set to be collected a Cornish charity called the Ocean Recovery Project who were going to recycle the net. Click here to read more on this story.

Evidence that invasive mussel species “has made its way into British waters”: There is now “clear evidence” that an invasive species of mussel is present in British waters, leading to fears over the impact this will have on native species. The Asian date mussel (Arcuatula senhousia) is easily identifiable by the distinctive zig-zag pattern on its shell. Native to the North Pacific Ocean the species has spread around the world, usually in the ballast water of ships or due to being mixed with imports of other species of shellfish. The Asian date mussel can quickly reproduce and reach huge numbers with many thousands of the mussels covering the seabed, smothering native species of shellfish such as scallops, destroying seagrass beds and reducing the amount of food available for fish species. The discovery that Asian date mussels are living and feeding in British waters was made by Peter Barfield, a marine scientist at the University of Portsmouth. Read more by clicking here.

Fisherman hauls up WW2 depth charge in his nets: A fisherman from Scotland is “lucky to be alive” after bringing an unexploded Second World War depth charge up from the seabed in his nets. Glenn Gallagher, 44, was fishing out of Largs, North Ayrshire on his boat The Two Boys when he hauled an unusually heavy metal object on board. Initially thinking it was a domestic boiler, Mr Gallagher recognised the smell of explosives and immediately alerted the authorities. A Ministry of Defence explosives team identified the object as a World War Two mark 7 depth charge (a type of explosive dropped by ships or aircraft to destroy submarines) and towed it out to sea where is was safely detonated the following day. The incident happened on December 20th last year but has only been reported this month. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Ocean Cleanup device beset by problems in its first phase of operation: The much-hyped Ocean Cleanup project which aims to rid the world’s seas of plastic pollution, has encountered further problems during its first phase at sea. The device was devised by Dutchman Boyan Slat when he was only sixteen and was originally envisaged to consist of booms many kilometres long which would float through the sea collecting plastic pollution in the screens which trailed beneath them. However, difficulties in manufacturing the device led to the booms being significantly reduced in length to hundreds of metres. Last month it was then reported that the booms were not operating as expected and plastic waste was not being collected, possibly because the booms moved too slowly through the sea and plastic was simply floating out of the screens which were meant to retain it. Now a twenty metre section of one of the booms has snapped off from the main body of the boom, with Ocean Cleanup stating this was down to “material fatigue” probably caused by the action of the waves. The entire boom has been towed back to port in San Francisco for repair and upgrade. Ocean Cleanup has been heavily promoted around the world and received vast sums in donations, with many touting it as a possibly solution to the plastic pollution in the world’s seas and oceans. However, the latest incident shows that the system is still far away from operating as planned. Slat tweeted on New Year’s Eve that he was “confident we’ll get The Ocean Cleanup fully operational in 2019.” Read more by clicking here. A separate article on the website Deep Sea News has added further criticism to the Ocean Cleanup project. Stating that there has been a “rush to place the device in the ocean” for “good publicity” the article points out that doubts were raised over the feasibility of the entire Ocean Cleanup project four years ago when Deep Sea News published a detailed technical study of the project. The article also states that the Ocean Cleanup project has carried out insufficient field trials and that the project is “poorly developed and executed, ignorant of the best science and data available, blatantly dismissive of critique, and far too hurried.” Read more here.

Venezuela’s near-collapse leads to the return of piracy in the fishing industry: The meltdown of the Venezuelan economy and the near-total breakdown of social order in the country has led to the return of piracy to the region. Fishermen from nearby Caribbean countries have had their vessels raided and crews kidnapped when they venture just a few miles from their own shore. Venezuela has been ruled by President Nicolas Maduro – who is widely considered a dictator by the international community – since 2013. Under his leadership the country’s currency has plummeted in value, mass food shortages have become an ongoing issue which has left an estimated three quarters of the country malnourished and inflation is set to reach 10,000,000% by the end of 2019. An article in the Spectator this month has described how the countries fishing industry has collapsed, with many impoverished Venezuelan fishermen turning to piracy to try and survive. This has had a huge effect on the fishing industry of the entire Caribbean region, with fishermen from nearby Trinidad and Tobago now being raided by former Venezuelan fishermen whenever they go to sea. As well as catches being stolen some Trinidadian fishermen have been kidnapped and taken to lawless ports in Venezuela such as Guiria which lies just ninety miles away from Trinidad. There is also a major problem with former Venezuelan fishermen now using their vessels to smuggle cocaine and weapons such as assault rifles into Trinidad and Tobago. There appears to be no easy answers to the situation in Venezuela, and many fishermen from Caribbean countries wonder if their livelihoods will survive. Read more here.

Indonesia’s tuna fishery reforms lead to MSC gold standard award: The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has awarded Indonesia’s tuna fishery the country’s first ever gold standard award. The fishery uses low impact traditional methods such as pole and line fishing, trolling and handline fishing. Further reforms have included becoming the first country in the world to provide satellite tracking of its fishing fleets, a ban on destructive fishing practices such as trawling and a hardline stance on illegal fishing. This has included seizing foreign fishing boats which are operating illegally in Indonesian waters and then setting them alight at sea and the televised destruction of illegal foreign fishing vessels by the Indonesian Navy. Read more by clicking here.

Divers filmed swimming with huge great white shark: Divers were able to take photos and videos of each other swimming with Deep Blue, a six metre long (20ft), two and a half ton great white shark which is one of the largest ever recorded. The images were captured off the coast of Hawaii and it is believed that Deep Blue was attracted to the area by the presence of a dead sperm whale. Deep blue is estimated to be fifty years old and due to its unusually shaped belly may be pregnant. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

MP’s committee urges action to stop seas being used as a ‘sewer’: An influential committee of MPs has said that a new global agreement should be reached to stop the world’s seas and oceans from becoming a “sewer”. The Environmental Audit Committee warned that plastic pollution was set to treble, ocean acidification would continue to increase and overfishing was reducing fish stocks at an unsustainable rate. They also warned that issues such as deep sea mining and chemical pollution could emerge as major threats in the future. The committee, which is chaired by Labour MP Mary Creagh, said that an agreement similar to the Paris Agreement on climate change was needed in order to protect and restore the marine environment across the world. Read more by clicking here.

Anger over seals shot by alleged ‘anglers’: News emerged this month that two seals had been shot dead and washed up on mudbanks in Essex. The Daily Mail reported that Tony Haggis, 67, found the seals and estimated them to be five years old and possibly pregnant and stated that they had been shot with what looked like a .22 calibre rifle. The Daily Mail went on to say that Mr Haggis believes that “anglers” may have shot the seals as they were interfering with fishing from their boats. However, the article goes on to confusingly quote Mr Haggis as saying “there is a law which allows commercial fishermen to shoot seals if they interfere with the nets” implying that he thinks commercial (rather than recreational) fishermen are to blame. A £3,000 reward has been offered for anyone supplying information which leads to a conviction for the shooting of the seals, and anyone who knows more has been urged to contact the RSPCA. Read more by clicking here.

Irish trawlers will be used to remove plastic pollution from the sea: The Irish government is set to implement a scheme which will see commercial fishing boats being used to remove plastic waste and pollution from the sea by the end of this year. The Clean Oceans Initiative was announced by Michael Creed, Ireland’s Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine this month. The plan is for trawlers to remover plastic debris and pollution as it is collected in their nets and hauled aboard “as they go aboard their activity at sea” according to Mr Creed. He stated that this would need to be a “coordinated action” with the onshore facilities and infrastructure provided to dispose of plastic pollution and recovered fishing gear which the trawlers bring back to shore. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Article highlights the threats to “ugly” Atlantic wolffish: An article on the Business Insider website (which features a contribution from British Sea Fishing) looked at the threats facing the Atlantic wolffish, a species which was once abundant in UK waters but is now under severe threat. The article acknowledges that the Atlantic wolffish is an “extremely ugly fish” with an “unattractive visage” but goes on to say that they have been “overfished to the point of extinction.” The reasons for this are that they are often caught as bycatch in commercial trawls, a situation made worse by the fact that they lay their eggs in a nest which can also be destroyed by trawling. The article goes on to say that the Atlantic wolffish is too ugly to receive conservation attention in the way that tigers, pandas and snow leopards do, but there is some hope for this species in the form of marine reserves which are being created in some parts of the world. Read more by clicking here.

Ocean warming is happening faster than previously thought: An article in the New York Times this month looked at new research which found that ocean warming was happening at a faster rate than previously believed. The research, published in the academic journal Science, found that the oceans were warming at a rate forty per cent faster than a UN panel predicted five years ago. The world’s oceans play a critical role in regulating the temperature of the planet as they absorb over ninety per cent of the heat trapped in the atmosphere which is caused by human activity, effectively stopping land from warming at a much faster rate than it currently does. However, if ocean warming continues it will eventually have catastrophic impacts. Entire marine ecosystems will collapse, depriving hundreds of millions of people of their main source of food, sea levels will rise leading to mass flooding and hurricanes and other extreme weather events will become much more common. The article went on to say that although the research presented a “grim forecast” for the future initiatives such as the 2015 Paris climate agreement would help to “avoid the worst case outcomes.” Click here to read the full article.

Could vegan fish and shellfish be an alternative to wild caught seafood?: An article in the i newspaper this month looked at the growing popularity of vegan food and asked if vegan seafood could take off in the UK. The paper looked at a US brand called Sophie’s Kitchen which is going to begin selling its products in selected Sainsbury’s stores. This will include vegan smoked salmon and vegan shrimp, with vegan lobster mac ‘n’ cheese and vegan scallops following if the initial products are a success. Sophie’s Kitchen describes itself as a company which is “on a mission to make plant-based seafood accessible and delicious to everyone.” The products are made with ingredients such as paprika, pea starch, olive oil and seaweed powder. It remains to be seen how UK consumers take to such ‘seafood’ being available on the shelves of UK supermarkets. Read more by clicking here.

Controversial academic paper about illegal fishing retracted: A paper published in an academic journal which claimed that a large proportion of the Alaskan pollock, crab and salmon which was being exported to the Japanese market came from IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fisheries has finally been retracted. The paper was published over a year ago in the academic journal Marine Policy and attracted controversy when a range of people within the fishing industry challenged the claims made in the paper. Figures within the fishing industry, prominent fisheries scientists such as Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington and the US government – who were worried the paper would impact on the reputation of the US fishing industry – all called for the paper to be withdrawn. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) who verify the Alaskan fishery as sustainable, also backed the calls for the paper to be withdrawn. Hilborn stated “as near as we can tell, the paper made up all of its results without any data on IUU fishing.” The editor of Marine Policy said that the paper would be retracted but would be revised an then resubmitted. Click here to read more on this story.

Japan’s “Sushi King” pays £2.5 million for the first giant tuna of the season: A new record was set in Japan this month when “Sushi King” Kiyoshi Kimura bought a 612lbs (278kg) tuna at the first auction of the year for £2.5 million. The auction took place at the new Toyusu Fish Market, following the closure of the world-famous Tsukiji market last year. Japanese businessmen will pay well over the true market value of around £45,000 at the auction for the first tuna of the season due to the publicity, worldwide attention and supposed good luck which buying the first tuna of the season brings. Kimura has won the first tuna auction of the year for six of the last seven years, and already held the record for the most expensive tuna ever purchased when he paid just over £1,000,000 in 2013. Although the year’s first tuna auction is well-established in Japanese culture there are critics who see the traditional as damaging as it promotes the catching and consumption of a species which is threatened and endangered across much of its range. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Killer whale spotted in Scottish waters: A killer whale known as John Coe by conservationists has been spotted in the Moray Firth. The killer whale can be identified by notches missing from its dorsal fin. The killer whale is resident in UK waters but is rarely spotted this close to land, with some pictures posted on social media showing the killer whale in the unusual position of being very close to residential homes located near to the sea front. A second killer whale was spotted with John Coe, although attempts to identify it have been inconclusive. Read more here.

Natural phenomenon may explain bluefin tuna presence in British waters: The increasing numbers of bluefin tuna found in the waters of the UK may be due to a natural climactic phenomenon known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO). This is a long-term climactic trend which takes place over sixty and 120 years. In a positive AMO water temperatures rise, and during a negative AMO they fall. As we are currently in a positive AMO this may well explain the growing number of bluefin tuna found in the waters around the UK. The BBC reported on the finding which were initially published in the academic journal Science Advances. Researchers claimed that this could be a breakthrough for understanding the distribution and migration of bluefin tuna. However, they warned that warming seas around the UK would mean cooler temperatures in the Mediterranean, which would affect tuna spawning and juvenile survival. In this way growing numbers of tuna around the UK could mask the fact that overall the numbers of bluefin tuna (which is classed as threatened and endangered across much of its range) are falling. Click here to read more.

Mystery of distressed sperm whale seen in Scottish loch: A sperm whale was spotted acting in a distressed manner in a Scottish sea loch, leading to fears it may have become entangled in commercial fishing gear. The sperm whale was found in Loch Eriboll on the north coast of Scotland, with estimates stating that the whale was around nine metres (30ft) long. The coastguard and British Divers Marine Life Rescue volunteers and staff from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals monitored the whale but could not confirm that it was caught in fishing gear, meaning that it may instead have been injured, suffering from illness or disease, or may have become lost and disoriented within the loch. A search for the whale was carried out two days after it was initially sighted, but no trace of the sperm whale could be found. It was hoped that the sperm whale had been able to free itself from the fishing gear (if it was ever actually trapped) and had then been able to find its way back out to sea, although the fate of the sperm whale remains a mystery. Read more here.