January 2021 – News

Video evidence may be allowed to set new claims for record fish: The British Record Fish Committee (BRFC) is set to allow the use of video evidence to set official records for rod caught fish. Current rules mean that any fish caught must be weighed on land on scales which can be checked for accuracy, although records can be claimed if a fish is photographed, weighed and returned to the sea and a witness is present. The call to accept video evidence comes after angler Guntars Zukovskis from Somerset caught a 21lb 5oz bass in 2020, a fish which would have broken the British shore caught record of 19lb 12oz had it been accepted. While Zukovskis filmed himself weighing the fish before returning it to the sea he was not able to claim a record as the rules currently state that there must be a witness present to verify the catch. The bass will instead be placed on the BRFC’s Notable Fish List. This would mark a huge change in the way record fish are verified and accepted, but would also be seen as a move towards a more conservation-minded way of angling and setting records for rod caught fish. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Angling permitted under new lockdown: With a new lockdown beginning at the start of this month due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, there was confusion over whether or nor angling was allowed. Most recreational activities are banned but exercise is allowed and there were questions as to whether angling counted as exercise. On the 8th January the Angling Trust announced that they had been informed by the government that angling was permitted as it counted as exercise. However, anglers must observe the lockdown regulations which are currently in force. These include staying in the angler’s local area to fish, following social distancing guidelines and not fishing overnight as well as several others. The guidelines also state that if there is no local fishing available then anglers will simply not be permitted to go fishing as it is against the rules to travel outside of a local area for exercise. The news has been welcomed by a number of groups including the Canal and Rivers Trust and a number of fishing clubs and societies who highlighted the mental health benefits of going fishing. Read more on the Angling Trust website here.

Pulse trawling banned by the UK following Brexit: Pulse trawling – the controversial practice of trawlers using electric shocks to force fish out of the seabed – has been banned in the UK’s territorial waters. The ban came into force at 11pm on 31st December, the moment which the transition period between the UK and the EU ended. Pulse trawling has a long and complicated history in EU waters which has led to some media outlets claiming that the UK has always had the power to ban the activity. The reality is that pulse trawling has always been prohibited in EU waters but the European Commission allowed the Dutch fishing industry to use pulse trawls on an experimental basis and recommended that the practice be expanded due to the lower fuel consumption and claims that they caused less damage to the seabed. There are, however, concerns over the long term effects of pulse trawling with environmentalists and UK fishermen claiming that it kills non-target fish and other sea creatures which live in the seabed. While the European Parliament eventually voted to ban the practice by mid-2021 the UK has brought in a ban with immediate effect. Read more on this story by clicking here.

UK super-trawler has limited fishing opportunities since Brexit: The Kirkella is an 81-metre long, 3,970-ton whitefish (cod and haddock) trawler which is based in Hull. However, when Britain left the EU on the 1st January the agreements which allowed the vessel to fish – which were previously made through the EU – were not in place. This meant that the Kirkella was effectively prevented from operating. In late January it was eventually allowed to leave on a six-week fishing voyage to Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean but the single fishing trip was described as a “sticking plaster” by Jane Sandell, the CEO of Fisheries UK which owns the vessel as no further fishing is planned. The Kirkella is one of the largest vessels in the UK-based fleet. It was officially named by Princess Anne at a ceremony on the Thames in 2019, although it had already been in operation before this. The Kirkella is capable of catching 2.3 million fish on each six to eight-week fishing trip and freezing the catch on board. Fisheries UK claim that the Kirkella supplies between eight and twelve per cent of all of the fish sold by British fish and chip shops. Read more on this story by clicking here.

EU accused of insufficient action on protection for the seas: A group of marine conservation organisations accused the EU of “failing to protect the seas” and said that the current levels of marine protection across the EU are not strong enough to result in meaningful change. Organisations such as Our Fish, Oceana, Client Earth, Greenpeace and other organisations have joined together to make the claim this month. While the EU had passed laws to achieve “good environmental status” by 2020 the organisations say few of them have been enforced. For example, destructive bottom trawling is still permitted in many areas which have been designated as protected zones by the EU. The organisations have launched a ten-point plan for the EU to follow which they say will allow European waters to recover. The plan calls for more resources to be put into fisheries protection, existing legislation to be enforced and thirty per cent of EU waters to be highly protected by 2030. Read more on this story by clicking here.

London protest over export delays: Shellfish fishermen have carried out a protest in central London over delays to exports which have been brought about by additional paperwork and border controls which have been put in place following Brexit. Around twenty lorries held up traffic in Westminster and Whitehall in the protest. Police say that a number of people were fined for breaking coronavirus regulations but no arrests were made. While the UK and the EU did successfully agree on a Brexit trade deal the shellfish fishermen say that there are now new and unexpected restrictions on exporting seafood to the EU. These restrictions are detrimental to an industry when the freshness of the products, and therefore the speed of exports, is paramount and they claim that jobs will be at risk if the situation is not resolved. In response the government has said that a £23 million fund is available to compensate businesses for delays which were not their fault. Click here to read more on this story.

Hake could overtake cod as Britain’s favourite: An article in the Daily Mail this month stated that traditional chip shop favourites such as cod and haddock could be overtaken by hake as it becomes more common in British waters and is seen as a more sustainable species. Warming sea temperatures may see cod move further north and out of British waters as hake also shifts towards Britain. This could make hake a much more popular species as catches in some parts of the UK have grown year-on-year for the last two decades but the species was still given MSC sustainable status in 2015. The Marine Stewardship Council has also launched a new campaign to encourage consumers to try hake as an alternative to traditional whitefish species. Read more here.

Scotland and Ireland clash over Rockall: A dispute between Scotland and Ireland over Rockall – a tiny, uninhabitable rocky outcrop in the North Atlantic – has reignited this month. The dispute around Rockall is long and complicated. Rockall is situated approximately 200 miles east of the Outer Hebrides and was claimed by the UK in 1955 and incorporated as part of Scotland in the 1970s. For this reason, the Scottish government sees Rockall as Scottish territory and, following Brexit, now says that it controls the waters within twelve nautical miles of Rockall. The Irish government has, however, never recognised the UK or Scotland’s claim over Rockall and says that it is too small to base a territorial claim over. At the start of this month, the Irish fishing boat Northern Celt was blocked by the Marine Scotland patrol vessel Jura from fishing next to Rockall. The Scottish government have stated that the Irish boat had a temporary licence to fish in UK waters but not within twelve miles of Rockall and was “routinely inspected” by the crew of the Jura. The captain of the Northern Celt, Adrian McClenaghan, has said that around thirty per cent of his catch comes from the disputed waters. Following the incident, the Northern Celt left the area but the Jura remained near Rockall. There have been calls for Scotland to relinquish its claim over Rockall, but as yet the dispute appears no nearer to being resolved. Click here to read more on this story.

Japanese tuna auction raises only a fraction of last year’s price: In Japan there is an annual ceremonial tuna auction where rich businessmen pay a hugely inflated price for the honour and prestige of buying the first tuna of the year. In 2019 the first tuna of the new year sold for over ¥333 million (£2.3 million) and in 2020 for ¥193 million (£1.3 million). This year, with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic causing chaos across financial markets, the tuna auction still went ahead with a 459lb (208 kg) bluefin tuna which had been caught off Oma in northern Japan up for sale. The auction, however, only raised ¥20.8 million (£146,000) – less than ten per cent of last year’s total. The disappointing price has been blamed on the low demand for seafood as restaurants are forced to close as part of the measures to restrict the spread of coronavirus. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Royal Navy vessels sent into the English Channel following Brexit: Four Royal Navy patrol vessels have been sent into the English Channel as a sign of the UK’s new status and an independent coastal nation. The four River-class patrol vessels, HMS Trent, HMS Tamar, HMS Tyne and HMS Mersey, all left Portsmouth on New Year’s Eve to protect the UK’s new territorial waters. The vessels, which each displace around 2000 tons and are armed with machine guns and cannons, are specifically designed for offshore patrols and fisheries protection. While Britain has left the EU with a deal which allows EU vessels to catch a reduced level of fish in British waters for the next five and a half years the vessels will still be tasked with ensuring that all fishing is carried out legally and within the new rules. Typically two vessels will be at sea while the other two are undergoing routine maintenance or being used for training. However, the Royal Navy wanted all four vessels to be active on the first day of the UK regaining full control of its own waters with Admiral Lord West, the former First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff, stating: all four vessels being sent into the Channel was ‘an act of deterrence’ and symbolised that the UK was taking back control of its waters. Click here to read more on this story.

Investment in UK fishing industry finalised: Plans for a £100 million post-Brexit investment in the British fishing industry have been finalised by the government. The increased investment was announced as part of the Brexit deal which was agreed between the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve and will eventually see Britain take back twenty-five per cent of the fish currently caught by EU vessels. The increased spending will go on modernising fishing vessels and increasing the land-based capacity for fish processing. Read more on this story by clicking here.