June 2017 – News

Great White Shark Present Off Hampshire Coast?: A well-known angler and fishing journalist has claimed that a 12ft great white shark is present off the coast of Hampshire, and may attack swimmers and divers if it mistakes them for seals. Graeme Pullen claims that he has been trying to catch the great white for the last two years, and there have been multiple sightings by commercial fishing skippers, fishermen and members of the public walking on the beach have all seen either the shark itself or a large dorsal fin which could only belong to a great white. The Daily Mirror reports that Mr Pullen – who is well known in the angling community through his involvement in the Totally Awesome Fishing Show – has caught hundreds of sharks throughout his career and has also tagged sharks for the United State’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Mr Pullen told the Mirror: “This is no basking shark, no porbeagle, blue or mako … and this is not miles out to sea but close to shore, mostly hunting in the estuaries.” In March we reported that changing climactic conditions meant that British waters were now suitable for great white sharks and it was something of a mystery why they had not been spotted off the coast of the UK. If Graeme Pullen is correct then this summer could finally see great white sharks being confirmed as being present in British waters. Click here to read the full Daily Mirror article on this story.

Wild Wrasse Caught to Stock Salmon Farms: The guardian has reported that wild wrasse are being reduced in number as they are caught and shipped to Scottish fish farms. This is done as goldsinny and ballan wrasse act as ‘cleaner fish’ eating the sea lice off salmon. This effectively clears the salmon of parasites and means that harmful and increasingly ineffective chemical treatments do not need to be used on the salmon. Wrasse are an important species to sea anglers, being a main target of many summer anglers and providing many young people with an introduction into sea fishing. However, the Guardian has reported that wild wrasse are being caught in pots and shipped to Scottish fish farms in vast numbers. Although no records are kept about exactly how many wrasse are caught the respected journal New Scientist reported that annual wrasse catches have increased from less than two million tons to over 22 million tons to supply Norwegian fish farms with cleaner fish. The Angling Trust expressed concern over the depletion of wrasse, pointing out that this was mostly a catch and release species for anglers but fish farms often kill and discard wrasse once they have finished their cleaner function as wrasse is not a species which is commercially valuable. The Scottish Salmon industry dismissed concerns over the depletion of wrasse stocks, stating that they did not take juveniles or brood stock and that there were no firm figures or statistics showing wrasse numbers had declined. Read more by clicking here.

General Election, Queen’s Speech and the Fisheries Bill: The people of the UK went to the polls on June 8th following British Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election. While a comfortable victory had been predicted for the Conservative Party the result turned out to be a hung parliament, with no party having an overall majority. However, the Conservatives look set to stay in power due to an alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party. Last month we reported on an ambiguous phrase in the Conservative manifesto which stated that Britain would be fully responsible for waters where we have “historically exercised sovereign control,” but it was unclear if this meant waters up to 200 miles from the UK coastline or the 12-mile zone which Britain currently controls as an EU member. However, in the Queen’s Speech – where the government sets out its plans for the forthcoming year – appears to have removed all doubt by introducing a Fisheries Bill which has pledged to take back full control of UK waters. The main benefits of the bill will be to ensure the UK has responsibility for access and management of its own waters and to enable the UK to set its own quotas meaning fish stocks can be preserved and increased. This has pleased many people in the commercial fishery and beyond who blame the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy for the decline in the UK’s (and Europe’s) fish stocks and believe that Britain would be much better off running its own fisheries in the way that non-EU countries such as Norway and Iceland do. Read more on the Fisheries Bill here.

Scottish Conservatives Fisheries Pressure: While the Conservative Party had an extremely poor election campaign and lost their overall majority the Scottish Conservatives had a much better election. The number of Conservative MP’s in Scotland increased from one to thirteen, with many of the gains being made at the expense of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in coastal constituencies. While the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is seen as broadly in favour of a soft Brexit she has stressed that leaving the EU should result in a better deal for Scotland’s fishermen. Tellingly, David Mundell – the recently reappointed Scotland Secretary – made his first post-election visit to a commercial fish market in Peterhead, during which he referred to the CFP as a “disastrous” policy. Currently around 60% of fish in Scottish waters are caught by fishing vessels from foreign EU nations, and the Fisheries Bill (mentioned above) will please Scottish Conservatives and may be a result of the influence they now wield. Read more here.

Ten Million Tons of Fish Dumped at Sea Every Year: Research has revealed that one in ten fish which are caught commercially are dumped back in the sea every year, meaning that around ten million tons of fish are discarded on a global basis annually. The study was carried out by Australian researchers and found that this was actually a decrease on the 18.8 million tons which was discarded in the 1980s. However, the reduction in discards may be down to the fact that there are less fish around now, meaning that commercial fishermen simply have less fish to throw away, rather than better management of stocks. The main reasons for throwing away fish were listed as the practice of high grading (the practice of disposing of lower value fish to make room for more valuable catch), catching fish out of season and catching fish which were too small. Countries including Spain, China, Indonesia, the USA, Russia, Japan and Thailand were listed as being among the worst offenders when it came to discards. Read more here.

EU Fishermen May Fish Illegally in UK Waters After Brexit: An EU Fisheries Chief has suggested that European fishermen could simply ignore the UK’s plan to take back control of its own fishing grounds and continue to fish illegally in British waters. Gerard van Balsfoort, the chairman of the European Fisheries Alliance, said in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the 18,000 fishermen he represents could continue to fish in UK waters, even if Britain is successful in regaining control of its fishing grounds after leaving the EU. He also added that the Royal Navy was not capable of monitoring and enforcing control of all of Britain’s territorial waters. The news comes after the UK made the first steps in leaving the Common Fisheries Policy which would see EU nations lose the right to automatically fish in British waters and Britain regain the right to set its own quotas and decide its own policy for its fisheries. While this would greatly benefit British fishermen and offer the UK the chance to rebuild fish stocks and increase quotas in a sensible and sustainable manner many European fishing fleets would be much worse off if they were unable to access British waters. In 2015 EU vessels caught 683,000 tonnes of fish worth £484 million in UK waters, but UK vessels only caught 111,000 tonnes worth £114 million revenue in EU member states’ waters, while countries such as Denmark rely on British waters for around 40% of their entire catch. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Shark ‘Attack’ On Surfer off Devon Coast: A shark, believed to be a smooth-hound, ‘attacked’ a surfer off the coast of Devon this month, in an incident many newspapers were referring to as Britain’s first shark attack. Thirty-year-old Rich Thompson was surfing in the sea off the coast of Bantham in North Devon when the 3 foot long shark apparently bit his leg. He then hit it on the head and it swam off, but, according to quotes in the Telegraph, he was left with a hand that was “cut to pieces” and “a bruise about three inches across.” If he had not been wearing his thick wetsuit Mr Thompson claims that the injuries could have been far worse. Many anglers who are familiar with the smooth-hound may find Mr Thompsons story difficult to comprehend, but much of the UK media appears to be taking this story seriously. Read more and see pictures of the injuries Mr Thompson suffered on the Telegraph website by clicking here.

Blue Shark Which Closed Mallorca Beaches is Killed: An 8ft long blue shark closed a number of beaches in Mallorca to be closed this month. The shark was spotted in shallow water around three separate resorts including Magaluf which is popular with UK holidaymakers. This had sparked panic with many people running from the water and the beaches being closed for several hours. On Sunday 25th June news emerged that the shark had been ‘euthanised’ by a team from Palma Aquarium. They claimed that the shark had suffered “irreversible damage” from an old fish hook which was embedded in its mouth and would not have survived in the wild. The shark was filmed on the beach surrounded by tourists and beachgoers before it was taken away to the aquarium. Blue sharks are not considered to be a species which attacks humans on a regular basis. There have only been four confirmed human deaths caused by blue sharks since records began in 1580. Despite the claims that the shark was killed for humane reasons many believe that the Spanish authorities – fearful of affecting tourist numbers during the busy summer season – would have been keen to see the shark killed to assure tourists that they could go in the sea safely. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Huge Live Lobster Found in US Passenger’s Luggage: A 20lb (9kg) live lobster was found the in the luggage of a passenger at Boston’s Logan Airport by Transport Security Administration agents this month. The TSA said that it was likely to be the largest lobster they had ever encountered in a passengers luggage. Surprisingly, it is perfectly permissible to carry live lobsters in checked baggage in the USA, as long as they are stored in a clear, plastic spill proof container and is visually inspected by the TSA prior to flying. Some airlines even allow live lobsters to be transported in carry on luggage. Read more here.

Orcas Killing Great Whites off Coast of South Africa: Great white sharks – some up to 15ft long and weighing one ton – are being killed by orcas (killer whales) off beaches close to Cape Town. The sharks are washing up dead with their livers eaten, and it is believed that the orcas are killing the sharks purely to eat the nutrient rich livers of the great whites. While many believe that great white sharks are the most fearsome animal in the sea it is actually orcas which are the oceans apex predator. At their very largest male orcas can be 30ft long and weigh around six tons. Working as a team they can overpower and kill even the largest great white sharks. Click here to read more.

Scottish Salmon Farms Kill Dozens of Seals: News emerged this month that a number of Scottish salmon farms which supply major UK supermarkets are killing seals to protect their stocks. Marine Harvest which supplies salmon to Waitrose and Sainsbury’s said that it killed twenty-one seals last year. Acoustic devices are used to deter seals from going near fish farms, but if seals are attacking fish the staff of the fish farm have the right to shoot and kill seals. The news may come as a shock to consumers who shop at supermarkets which stress their green and environmentally friendly credentials. A spokesman for the Seal Protection Action Group said that if fish farms were banned from shooting seals then they would be forced to use non-lethal methods to protect their fish. Click here to read more.

Trawling for Prawns Sold in UK is Killing Turtles: News emerged this month that the UK’s demand for prawns is killing thousands of turtles in tropical parts of the world. Trawls are used to catch prawns in the seas off countries such as Bangladesh, India and Vietnam. Most of the prawns caught are exported to the European Union, with the UK being the largest single market for prawns. However, a study has found that as many as 29,000 turtles could be killed by becoming entangled in prawn trawl nets, with endangered species such as the hawksbill turtle being amongst those killed. Turtle excluder devices can be added to nets which allow 97% of trapped turtles to escape, but only reduce the target prawn catch by around 2%. The World Wildlife Fund is now calling for the UK government to follow the example set by the United States by banning tropical prawn imports from fisheries which do not use turtle excluder devices. Click here to read more.

Half of UK Doesn’t Know What a Kipper Is: The Daily Mail reported on a story this month in which 54% of the people did not know which species of fish a kipper was. The article shows how kippers – smoked, gutted herrings which were once a mainstay of British breakfasts – have reduced in popularity to the extent that many people simply do not know what they are. The research was carried out by the Marine Stewardship Council and also found that 28% of people thought kippers were a smoked mackerel and 10% believed they were a distinct species of fish. Many people surveyed also struggled to identify bloaters (ungutted smoked herring), rock salmon (small shark species served in fish and chip shops) and Cullen skink (a soup containing haddock which is of Scottish origin). Read more on this story by clicking here.

Commercial Fishing Gear Kills up to 4000 Dolphins: Analysis of dead dolphins which washed up on British and French beaches has provided evidence that commercial fishing gear may be killing thousands of the creatures. Around one thousand of the creatures have been analysed with scientists finding that the fatal wounds had been inflicted by fishing gear. It was also estimated that approximately three thousand dolphins would have died but not washed up onto land. Scientists fear that dolphins could be wiped out in areas famous for their dolphin populations, such as Cornwall. Changes in commercial fishing methods and the type of gear used have been proposed. Read more by clicking here [paywall].

Two-Headed Porpoise Found in North Sea: A two-headed porpoise has been caught by a commercial fishing vessel in the North Sea. The creature had two fully-formed heads and is an extremely rare example of conjoined twins in marine mammals. It was caught in the southern part of the North Sea in May and is believed to have died shortly after birth. The fishermen who caught the creature threw it back into the sea after catching it, as they believed that it was illegal to retain it. However, they took a number of photos which have now appeared in a number of international scientific journals. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Fishing Hook Removed from Man’s Eye: Footage from a Spanish hospital has showed the work surgeons have carried out to remove a fishing hook from a man’s eye. In the video a metal scalpel and tweezers are used to remove the small freshwater-size hook from the centre of the man’s eye while liquid is added as the procedure takes place. Eventually the hook is removed and tiny stitches are used to close the wound. It is not known how the hook ended up embedded in the man’s eye but the video does work as a reminder of how dangerous fishing hooks can be and how much care needs to be taken when handling them. The graphic video and images can be seen by clicking here.

UN Patron Condemns Shark Tournament: A United Nations Patron has criticised an American shark tournament after threatened mako sharks were caught and killed by anglers looking to win a share of the $300,000 prize fund. Lewis Pugh is a British long-distance swimmer who has found fame by being the first person in the world to complete a long distance swim in every ocean in the world. He has also carried out long distance swims in threatened Arctic Oceans and in a glacial lake on Mount Everest to draw attention to global warming. He has acted as the United Nations Patron of the Oceans since 2013. This month Pugh was attending a UN conference in New York when he travelled to New Jersey to observe the three day South Jersey Shark Tournament at Cape May. Pugh has stated that he was horrified to see mako sharks which are classed as threatened by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) being killed and then chopped up on the harbourside. The winner of the tournament caught a 310lb mako shark, winning himself $108,000. Pugh also noted the irony of people killing threatened sharks while less than two hours away a conference was taking place on how to protect the oceans. Pugh likened the killing of the sharks to the death of Cecil the Lion, the 2015 killing of a lion in Africa by American dentist and amateur big game hunter Walter Palmer – an incident which sparked international condemnation and fury. American shark tournaments have come under pressure to at least change their format to catch-and-release in recent years with big name brands that sponsor tournaments being bombarded by messages on social media to stop supporting competitions where sharks are killed. Click here to read more on this story.

Millions of Bizarre Sea Creatures off Canadian Coast: A huge number of bizarre sea creatures have been spotted off the eastern coast of Canada, with many fearing that the influx of the creatures could threaten both the health of the ecosystem and commercial fishing operations in the area. Pyrosomes are bizarre looking tubular creatures which are actually very small but form into colonies which can be several metres in length. While they are usually found in warmer tropical waters it is feared that millions of the colonies could be present in Canadian waters, smothering natural sources of food for fish and clogging up the nets of commercial fishermen. Some fishermen reportedly fear that they may have to battle with hauling hundreds or even thousands of kilograms of pyrosomes in order to catch a marketable amount of commercially valuable fish. Warmer than usual sea temperatures along with irregular sea currents appear to have brought the pyrosomes to Canadian waters, and it is hoped that when the sea temperatures drop the pyrosomes problem will abate. Read more and see pictures here.

Plastic Pollution Found on Arctic Island: A research expedition by Dutch scientists has found that high levels of plastic pollution is present on mostly uninhabited Arctic islands. Despite having no permanent population the tiny Norwegian island of Jan Mayen, which lies 370 miles north east of Iceland, had significantly more plastic pollution than European beaches in highly populated countries. The scientists from Wageningen University in the Netherlands found that Jan Mayen (as well as the islands that neighbor it) are becoming ‘dumping grounds’ for plastic waste which is generated in Europe and North America and then carried on the Gulf Stream to the Arctic. It is believed that plastic pollution released into UK waters could end up in the Arctic within two years. Commercial fishing related litter thrown overboard from vessels, such as roping, nets and plastic ties used to secure fishing boxes made up around 12% of the litter, but some of the plastic waste had come from southern Europe. Plastic pollution can damage ecosystems as larger parts entangle animals and smaller pieces of plastic are mistaken for food by a range of marine creatures. All plastic in the oceans eventually breaks down into much smaller pieces of microplastic. It is not currently known what impact large amounts of microplastics will have on marine ecosystems in the future. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Call for Change in Scottish Creel Fisheries: Scottish creel fishermen have called for trawling to be banned from inshore waters and the quota of prawns which is currently caught by trawlers to be transferred to them. Creel fishermen set pots on the seabed to catch prawns and say that their method of fishing is less damaging to the marine environment. The claim that banning trawling within three miles of the shoreline would create many more jobs for creel fishermen. They also say that £45million of additional annual revenue would be generated as well as additional benefits for coastal communities. Trawling was banned within three miles of the shore for many years, but the ban was lifted in 1984. Prawns caught by creel fishermen are classed as a premium product as they are still alive at the time of capture, while those caught by trawling are worth significantly less due to the damage that being caught by a net causes. Creel fishermen have also complained that their pots and nets have been destroyed by trawlers dragging nets through them. Unsurprisingly, the trawlermen are not happy with this proposal, saying that jobs would be lost in the trawling industry. Click here to read more on this story on the BBC website.

Faroe Islands Whale Slaughter Condemned: The Faroe Islands annual whale hunt has been heavily criticised across the world’s media this month. The Grindadrap hunt takes place every summer and involves forcing long-finned pilot whales and Atlantic white-sided dolphins into shallow bays where they are rounded up and then killed by members of the public wading into the water. The killing of the whales usually turns the sea red with blood. The whale slaughter is deeply embedded in Faroese culture and can be traced back to at least the year 1298. However, international condemnation of the non-commercial hunt has grown year on year. The Faroe Islands government continues to permit the hunt but has brought in laws which must be followed in an attempt to limit the suffering of the whales. This includes introducing a training certificate which anyone taking part in the hunt must possess and banning the use of traditional weapons such as spears and harpoons. Now the wales must be killed with a special tool which severs the spinal cord of the whale, killing it in seconds and the traditional cutting of the whales throat can only happen once the whale is dead. These changes have done little to stop the international outcry every summer when the Grindadrap hunt takes place, and many conservation organisations, wildlife charities and governments continue to condemn the hunt. Read more here. –

Famous Statue Vandalised Over Hunt: In a directly related story the world famous Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen was covered in red paint by activists to protest at the annual Faroe whale hunt. While the Faroe Islands are autonomous they are part of the Kingdom of Denmark and much of the anger at the hunt is directed at the Danish government. The 4ft tall statue was created by sculptor Edvard Eriksen and is based on the fairytale of the Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. The statue has become a major draw for tourists and is often targeted by activists and pressure groups aiming to make a political point. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Rick Stein Criticised by Cornish Fishermen: The celebrity chef Rick Stein has been criticised by local fishermen who claim that his restaurant in Porthleven shuns local fish and instead relies on fish brought in from further afield. Although born in Oxfordshire Stein has strong connections with Cornwall and has opened a range of restaurants and related businesses in the area, employing hundreds of people. However, Porthleven fishermen have claimed that Stein does not purchase fish from them to sell in his restaurant but instead uses fish merchants which source their fish from elsewhere in the UK. When a fire broke out at the Porthleven restaurant the Telegraph asked if one of Stein’s “many enemies” in the area could be to blame for the blaze. The Guardian, however, pointed out that much of Steins fish comes from a fish merchant in nearby St. Ives and using a single merchant for all of the restaurants allows a stable and consistent supply of fish. Read the full article in the Guardian here.

Large Sharks Caught off Coast of Whitby: Last month we reported that a number of large porbeagle sharks had been caught off the coast of south west England. This month the same species has been caught off the North Yorkshire coast. A seven foot long porbeagle shark was caught off the coast of Whitby at the start of this month, and this was followed a fishing boat catching eight foot and six foot long porbeagle sharks, and sighting another porbeagle which was even larger. All of the sharks which were caught were measured and tagged and then returned to the sea. Many people are surprised to hear that sharks this large are present in UK waters, but porbeagles are relatively common and are successfully caught by boat anglers targeting this species, especially in the summer months. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Changing Fish Species Could Kill Off Puffins: Species of marine birds such as puffins could be killed off within fifty years as vital fish stocks they rely on vanish from the seas. Puffins are currently classed as Vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) with a decreasing population trend. It is believed that changes in sea temperature are moving the fish puffins feed on away from the British Isles, but the gigantic commercial catch of sandeels (to feed fish in fish farms) is also seen as an important factor in the decrease in puffin numbers. The RSPB have launched a citizen science project by asking people to take photographs of puffins feeding on fish. It is hoped that this will provide important information on the areas where puffins are declining and also the places where puffin numbers are holding up. Britain is a key location for puffins, being home to around one tenth of the global population. Read more on this story by clicking here.

UK Ban on Microbeads in 2018: A ban on microbeads in cosmetic products such as face washes and toothpastes is expected to come into force by the end of June 2018. The manufacture of products containing microbeads will actually be banned from January 2018, it will be legal to sell products containing microbeads for another six months to allow retailers to sell through their remaining stock. Microbeads are a major cause of ocean pollution and it is yet to be established exactly how big an impact they will have on both marine ecosystems and human health. Read more on this story by clicking here.

World Oceans Day: As well as being the day of the General Election, June 8th was also World Oceans Day. Originally proposed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro, World Oceans Day was brought about to give a stronger voice to those looking to protect the oceans and move the issue of the oceans up the political agenda. The 2017 World Oceans Day has the tagline “Our Oceans, Our Future” and coincided with the United Nations Oceans Conference which took place in New York. Read more on World Oceans Day by clicking here.

Salmon Prices Jump 83% in a Year: The price of salmon has continued to rocket as stocks are hit by surging demand and falling supply. The average price of twenty-three salmon products sold at Sainsbury’s jumped by 14% in the space of a week at the beginning of June. The main challenge is large scale infestations of sea lice which have plagued salmon farms in Norway and Scotland, the two largest producers of this species in Europe (see above story on wrasse being caught in the wild to treat salmon). Warming sea temperatures have made sea lice more widespread and attempts to control infestations and antibiotics are becoming less effective as the lice are becoming resistant to chemical treatments. In February to BBC reported that a Scottish salmon farm had inadvertently killed tens of thousands of salmon when using a new form of thermal heat treatment to kill sea lice which had infested the salmon. The Scottish salmon farming industry has spent an estimated £30 million trying to combat the problem of sea lice with little success. Click here to read more.

Creatures Released From Ghost Net: A video taken off the Cornish coast shows dozens of crabs and lobsters being released from a ‘ghost net’ – the term for commercial fishing gear which has been lost or abandoned at sea but continues to catch fish and other sea creatures. The video shows spider crabs being cut free from the monofilament net which is over one hundred metres long. A later scene in the short video shows seals tangled up in commercial fishing nets and ropes. Ghost nets are a major issue around much of the planet, with modern nets lasting for many, many years before they break down and rot away. The net in this video was found off Rosemullion Head in Cornwall and was removed from the sea by volunteers. Click here to watch the video on the BBC News website.

Thai Raw Fish Dish Kills 20,000 a Year: Koi Pla – a raw fish dish which is popular in poorer regions of Thailand – is responsible for the deaths of around 20,000 people each year due to its carcinogenic properties. The dish is made with finely chopped raw fish which is combined with a spicy salad dressing. However, the lack of cooking means that a parasitic flatworm is often present in the dish. This parasite can cause liver cancer, with areas of Thailand where the dish is most popular suffering from the highest levels of this type of cancer in the world. The Guardian has reported that Narong Khuntikeo, a Thai liver surgeon who lost both of his parents to liver cancer linked to eating Koi Pla has now vowed to raise awareness of the dangers of eating the fish. Narong has spent several years travelling around parts of Thailand where Koi Pla is widely eaten testing people for the parasite and raising awareness of the dangers of consuming raw fish. While Narong had been successful in testing many people and highlighting the health issues of Koi Pla he was less optimistic about the older generation taking his advice. This was because Thailand has a strong tradition of passing down traditional cooking methods from generation to generation and some people complained that cooking fish changed the flavour. Read more on this story here.