March 2018 – News

Brexit and Sea Fishing Developments: This month there has been a number of significant developments in the news surrounding Britain leaving the European Union and the impact this will have on sea fishing and fish stocks. The news below summarises what has happened:

  • EU calls for access to UK fishing grounds post-Brexit: The month began with a draft EU report has called for continued access to British fishing grounds after the UK leaves the EU and the CFP, provoking outrage from British fishermen. The EU’s draft guidelines call for existing access to be maintained, with Scottish fishing groups calling this “nonsensical.” Many EU nations will have their fishing opportunities seriously reduced if they are prevented from fishing in what will be British territorial waters after Brexit. While there is likely to be some form of reciprocal agreement to let some EU vessels fish in British waters after Brexit (just like non-EU Norway currently does) calls from the EU to continue with the status quo are likely to be firmly rejected. Read more by clicking here.

  • Prominent politicians call for UK to leave the CFP on Brexit day: The Environment Secretary Michael Gove and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson joined forces at the start of the month to demand that the UK leaves the Common Fisheries Policy when the country leaves the EU in March 2019. In a joint statement hey said that it was “vital” that the UK regained control of its own waters when it ceased to be a member of the twenty-eight nation bloc. The Scottish fishing industry – having already said that taking back control of British fishing waters was a red line issue – welcomed the move. Gove and Davidson stated that they felt a “debt to fishing communities” and looked to the government to get a “better deal for them.” Read more here. Similarly, former Labour MP Austin Mitchell wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Mail where he called for measures to ensure that “unpatriotic politicians” did not “betray our fishermen again.” Mitchell – who represented Grimsby when he was an MP and once changed his name to ‘Austin Haddock’ to draw attention to the UK fishing industry – said that the Chancellor Phillip Hammond was “touting our fishing rights as disposable” and warned that the government might “give them away in return for a better Brexit deal.” Read the full article here.

  • UK to stay in CFP during Brexit transition period: On Monday 19th March news emerged that a transition period of twenty-one months had been agreed between Britain and the EU. The period would start in March 2019 following Britain’s official departure from the EU. However, those expecting the UK to regain control of its fisheries were left disappointed as the details of the agreement revealed that the UK will continue to follow existing Common Fisheries Policy rules for the entire transition period. This is despite the fact that the UK will have no say in setting the rules and regulations or deciding fishing quotas. The reaction from many in the fishing industry was one of outrage, with many unable to understand why the government had failed to take the opportunity to restore control of British waters. Officially the UK may leave the CFP for the transition period, but as existing CFP rules will be followed the CFP will still effectively apply to the UK fishing industry. It is still expected that the UK will leave the CFP when the transition phase ends in December 2020, but many within the fishing industry are now questioning how committed the UK government is to regaining control of fishing grounds, and it is feared that some kind of agreement to allow large scale EU fishing within Britain’s territorial waters may be reached in return for concessions on finance, international trade or some other area. Read more on this story by clicking here.

  • Fishing leaders continue to criticise Brexit transition deal: Representatives from the UK fishing industry slammed the arrangement for Britain to effectively remain in the Common Fisheries Policy until December 2020, with many seeing this as a betrayal or sell-out of UK fishermen. The criticism was particularly strong from the Scottish fishing industry where the majority of the UK fishing industry is based. Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation saying that the deal was “far from acceptable” and adding that he expected a “cast iron” written guarantee that no EU nations would be able to access British fish stocks after the transition period. Read more on this here.

  • Brexit supports protest by throwing fish into Thames outside Parliament: Supporters of Brexit have thrown crates of haddock into the Thames to show their opposition to the UK’s continued adherence to the Common Fisheries Policy. The protesters – which included former UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Fishing for Leave founder Aaron Brown – were on board the fishing boat which was used to make the protest. Jacob Rees-Mogg, another high profile Brexit-supporting MP, was involved in the protest but he made a speech from a pier on the Thames in central London which drew crowds of people, and was not on board the boat. He said that he disagreed with throwing fish into the river and said that people in the fishing industry could “reluctantly” live with the transitional deal if it meant that the UK would eventually fully leave the CFP. Click here to read more and see pictures of the protest.

  • Michael Gove tells fishing industry to keep “eyes on the prize”: The Environment Secretary Michael Gove – who appears to have been ignored by the government in his call for the UK to reclaim its fishing waters – has said that the fishing industry should keep its “eyes on the prize.” This has been seen as a way of assuring the UK fishing industry that the ultimate goal of leaving the CFP and regaining control of the UK’s fishing grounds will still happen, despite the setback of the transition deal. Click here to read more.

  • Scottish Tories threaten to vote down final EU deal over fisheries: The thirteen Scottish MPs and one DUP MP have threatened to vote against the final Brexit deal that Theresa May must get through parliament unless their demands for the UK regaining full control over its fisheries are met. Losing this vote would almost certainly see Theresa May kicked out of power and a general election called. With the Conservative party losing its majority in the 2017 election the improved performance of its MPs in Scotland – where they went from one to thirteen members of parliament – effectively kept the entire party in power, while the DUP confidence and supply arrangement gives the Conservatives a working majority in the House of Commons. The Scottish Conservatives did particularly well in coastal communities, mostly because of the promise of what Brexit and leaving the EU meant for their fishing communities. For this reason the Scottish Conservatives have been particularly angry that the transition deal will keep the UK following EU fishing rules for at least another twenty-one months. The Scottish Conservatives are therefore demanding cast iron promises that when the transition deal ends the UK will entirely leave the Common Fisheries Policy, and the fact that they are prepared to bring down the entire government shows how strongly feelings run over this issue.Read more here.

Marine Conservation Society urges switch from cod and haddock to dab and hake: In a revised Good Fish Guide the Marine Conservation Society has called for UK consumers to switch from eating the popular species which have stocks which are under pressure, such as cod and haddock to other underexploited species such as dab, hake and herring. Rope-grown mussels, Dover crab and the deep-sea flatfish megrim are also on the list of species which people should also begin consuming. The call for UK consumers to broaden their tastes and eat lesser-known species is a familiar one, with the theory being that this will take the pressure off more popular fish and create value for species which may have otherwise being used as crab and lobster pot bait or thrown away as unwanted bycatch. However, there is evidence that when there is a big push to introduce new fish species to the UK market it does work but counterproductively also increases sales of the commonly eaten species such as cod and haddock which it is trying to reduce demand for. Click here to read the full article on this story.

Cold weather and ‘Beast from the East’ kills marine creatures: The UK suffered unseasonably cold weather this month, with the so-called Beast from the East causing roads and railway lines to be closed and businesses and shops to shut for several days. However, it also had a significant impact on sea life around the British Isles. Hundreds of thousands of sea creatures, mostly starfish, were found washed up on beaches across Kent, with local residents saying that starfish stretched “as far as the eye could see.” The sudden decrease in temperature along with the heavy seas is thought to have killed the creatures. Read more here. Seals, several different species of fish and lobsters were all washed up on Yorkshire beaches following the bad weather. The Independent reported that a local commercial fishermen reported that “every type of marine life” had been washed up dead onto Fraisthorpe beach, with crabs, lobsters, razorfish, scallops, whelks, cod, Dover soles, sandeels and wrasse all reported as being found across the beach. There were reports that members of the public were seen collecting large quantities of lobsters from beaches, including some which were undersized and others which were carrying eggs. Anyone doing this would have been committing an offence. Click here to read more on this story. Some unusual species washed up in some locations, such as octopus which were found dead on the beach at South Shields in north east England. Read more here.

Ocean plastic could treble in the next decade: A report which has been complied for the British government has stated that the amount of plastic in the seas and oceans could treble over the next ten years unless litter and plastic waste levels are reduced. There are also further threats to the marine environment such as warming seas and pollution. However, the seas and oceans also offer huge opportunities to cash in on the ‘ocean economy’ if people can be enthused about exploring the depths of the oceans in the same way that they are about space exploration. The Foresight report is one of a series on issues of strategic significance to the UK. These reports are written by experts and then given to ministers to inform policy. The report claimed that the amount generated by the ocean economy on a worldwide basis could double to £2 trillion by 2030 if seas and oceans are properly cared for and the worst effects of pollution, waste and overfishing are avoided. Read more by clicking here.

Deposit scheme for plastic bottles set to begin: The government is set to introduce a deposit scheme for single use plastic bottles in the UK, subject to a consultation. Plastic, glass and metal containers would all be covered by the scheme, which will be similar to those which have been highly effective in reducing plastic pollution in Germany and Sweden. The scheme is likely to see a charge likely to be somewhere between 8p and 22p added to the cost of a non-reusable container which is refunded when the container is returned. Around a third of marine pollution is made up of plastic bottles, and Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said that plastic pollution is “wreaking havoc on our marine environment.” Many environmentalists and campaigners were disappointed that a plastic bottle deposit scheme was omitted from the governments twenty-five year environment plan which was released later this year, so the plans for the scheme will be seen as a welcome move. Click here to read more on this story.

Call for better fisheries monitoring post-Brexit: A coalition of supermarkets, fish processors and seafood industry groups have called for better management and regulation of the fishing industry to be written into the Fisheries Bill which will come into effect after Britain leaves the UK. With less than one per cent of UK fishing boats comprehensively monitored when at sea the groups are calling for increased CCTV and remote sensor monitoring of fishing boats to ensure that they are complying with regulations when they are out at sea. The UK governments 25 Year Environment Plan made a commitment to ending wasteful discards by commercial fishing vessels and it is believed that implementing such measures would be a key way of achieving this. Click here to read more.

Royal Navy should be strengthened to protect British fishing waters after leaving the EU: A Conservative MP has called the Common Fisheries Policy the “very worst aspect” of EU membership and called for the Royal Navy to be increased in size to protect British fishing grounds after the UK leaves the EU and the CFP. Phillip Hollobone said an “armada” of EU trawlers had “been plundering” British fishing grounds since 1973 and were not going to be happy that they would be unable to do so when Britain leaves the CFP. For this reason it would be necessary to ensure that the Royal Navy had the resources and strength to ensure that Britain could defend its territorial waters. In response Brexit Minister Steve Baker said that the UK would “strengthen our surveillance capability and make sure that the appropriate capacity is in place to patrol our waters and enforce regulations as required.” Read more by clicking here.

BBC article asks why baby eels are one of Spain’s most expensive foods: An article on the BBC Travel website has investigated why baby eels are one of the most expensive foods available in Spain, but made only passing reference to the critically endangered status of this species. The article looked at why the eels cost up to 1000 Euros a kilogram when they were visually unappealing and had an unremarkable taste, concluding that it was the rarity value and perceived exclusivity of the baby eels which kept the price high. The article did say that they were now critically endangered and that there was a black market for trading the eels, but did not condemn or even criticise those who continued to consume this species. Indeed the tone of the article could be seen as being supportive of the continued trade and exploitation of a critically endangered species. Read the full article here.

Aral Sea recovery continues: The Aral Sea (which lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan) was once one of the largest enclosed bodies of waters in the world, supporting the surrounding region with shipping and fishing industries. However, Soviet era projects to irrigate cotton fields diverted away rivers which were essential to replenish the Aral Sea, meaning that from the early 1960s the Aral Sea began to shrink. Today it is at approximately ten per cent of its original size. Fishing communities which once bordered the sea are now ghost towns, and in some locations large ships have been left as rusting hulks in the middle of the desert as the sea has retreated and left them stranded. The United Nations has referred to the Aral Sea situation as one of the planet’s worst environmental disasters. However, an article on the National Geographic website this month has painted a positive future for at least part of the remaining the Aral Sea, stating that restoration projects have begun to work in some locations. While the South Aral Sea is almost totally gone (as the sea shrank it split into two separate bodies of water) the North Aral Sea is faring much better. A $86 million project financed by the World Bank has seen dikes repaired and the completion of the Kokaral Dam across a portion of the sea. This has trapped water within the North Aral Sea and diverted water from the Syr Darya River, leading to an 11ft rise in the water levels. This has happen in just seven months, rather than the three years which was originally predicted. The article in the National Geographic stated that fishing has re-started in the North Aral Sea and looks set to expand as the water level continues to rise. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch growing in size: The huge garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean between California and Hawaii is much larger than previously thought and may be growing in size, according to recent findings. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is likely to be made up of around 80,000 tons of plastic and other pollution, and a recent research trawl showed that plastics were presented there in the highest concentrations ever recorded. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was discovered in the mid-1980s. The rubbish and pollution continues to accumulate as it is trapped in a gyre (a system of circulating currents). Erik van Sebille of Utrecht University was part of the team which carried out the research and said that the amount of pollution present was “staggering.” It is estimated that there are around 1.8 trillion individual pieces of pollution making up the garbage patch, which coveres 1.6 million square kilometres. Read more here.

Sea Life Centre in national news after high level of animal deaths: A Sea Life Centre in Great Yarmouth has been heavily criticised by several national newspapers after a third of animals at the centre died in the space of a year. Figures obtained by the BBC showed that 812 out of 2,293 animals died, including endangered species of skates and rays. There are twelve Sea Life Centres in the UK, all ran by Merlin Entertainments, a FTSE 250 company which also owns Alton Towers and Chessington World of Adventures. The rate of animal deaths is much higher than in any other Sea Life Centre in the UK and the company admitted that a “complex” water quality issue may have been the cause of the deaths. The Marine Conservation Society said that it was reviewing its sponsorship of Sea Life Centres as a response to the issues at the Great Yarmouth centre. Read more on this story by clicking here.

BBC’s One Show criticised for hypocrisy on plastic waste: The BBC One programme the One Show has been highly criticised by viewers and conservationists after it released plastic balloons into the sky in the same episode as it warned about the dangers of plastic pollution. The show had ran a pre-recorded segment which presenter Matt Baker introduced by saying that there was a “huge problem with plastic waste.” However, later in the show a performance by pop band Take That on the roof of a London theatre ended with a large number of helium balloons being released into the air. Viewers criticised the BBC for the ignorance and hypocrisy displayed, while the RSPCA highlighted the damage that balloons could cause to the environment and wildlife. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Microplastics found in remote Scottish waters: Analysis of water samples taken from remote Scottish waters around islands such as Mull, Tiree and Rùm has found high levels of microplastic pollution, leading to fears over the impact on marine life and seabirds even in remote and sparsely populated locations. Greenpeace took forty-nine samples and found microplastic pollution in thirty-one. The charity has criticised the government for failing to take action to stop the problem from worsening, although the Scottish government has recently brought in policies to reduce microplastic pollution, such as banning plastic straws and cotton buds. Read more here.

Drones will be used to help spot litter on British beaches: A new initiative will see drones used to automatically spot litter and rubbish on British beaches, allowing areas which need to be cleaned up to be quickly identified. Initially, human input will needed to analyse the images taken by the drones, which is why Plastic Tide, the charity behind the project, is asking members of the public to go to their website and tag litter and rubbish which is visible in footage taken by the drones. However, as the project advances algorithms and artificial intelligence will be used to automatically analyse the footage the drones take, meaning that areas containing litter and rubbish will be identified with no human input. Click here to read more on this story.

Sperm whales dies on Scottish beach: A twelve metre long (40ft) sperm whale has died after becoming beached in the Firth of Tay on the east coast of Scotland. The whale was spotted by a dog walker struggling in very shallow water, and subsequently found lying on its side on the beach. A team of rescue workers were dispatched to save the whale but it had unfortunately died before they could reach it. There have been a spate of sperm whale stranding across Europe in the last two years. Scientists are still trying to work out why sperm whales are entering the North Sea in unusually high numbers – a body of water which they are not suited to due to its shallow depths and lack of their natural sources of food. It is not known what caused this whale to enter the Firth of Tay but a post mortem will be carried out to ascertain if they whale was ill or diseased when it died. Read more here.

Measures being taken to solve plastics crisis are nowhere near enough: An opinion piece by a former Environment Editor of the Guardian has claimed that measures to tackle plastic waste in the world’s seas and oceans are totally ineffective as they do not go anywhere near far enough. John Vidal has claimed that the proposed plastic bottle deposit scheme will not “make a scrap of difference” and said that the current measures being taken are the equivalent of a “heavy smoker forging a single cigarette.” Pointing out that the world manufactured two million tons of plastic a year in 1950, and makes 330 million tons a year today, Vidal also says that nano-sized particles of plastic are entering the human food chain. This is already having major effects on humans, such as 95% of US adults being found to have bisphenol A – a known carcinogen – in their urine, and 83% of tap water samples across the world were found to contain plastic microfibers. Another study found that sediment in the River Thame in Manchester had 517,000 particles of plastic per cubic metre, one of the highest concentrations ever found on earth. Vidal says that singling out specific sources of plastic pollution such as straws, disposable coffee cups, plastic bottles or microbeads is not enough. Instead we need to go much further. This would begin by banning plastic bags and plastic packaging, but the ultimate aim needs to be reducing the amount of plastic that we produce across the world. Read the full article by clicking here.

Campaign to stop krill products being sold by UK retailers: A number of retailers on British high streets have come under pressure to stop selling products containing krill, due to the devastating impact industrial fishing of this species is having on arctic ecosystems. Krill are small, shrimp-like mid-water crustaceans which are usually one or two centimetres in length, although some species can grow larger. They are found in the cold waters of the arctic, where they are a key source of food for seals, squid, fish, penguins and filter-feeding species of whales. Recent years have seen the demand for krill rise as it is used to make health supplements as krill oil is high in omega-3, fuelling large scale fishing for krill in arctic waters. However, there are now serious fears krill is being overfished, and the levels it is being removed in will have serious impacts on the marine ecosystem of the arctic. One study states that krill overfishing could cause penguin numbers to drop by one third, with a following impact on the larger species which prey on penguins. Holland and Barrett, one of the UK’s largest health retailers, has already said it will stop stocking products made with arctic krill, with pharmacy chain Boots now coming under huge pressure to do the same. Boots Facebook page has been bombarded with people threatening to boycott the company if it continues to sell krill products, and in some stores people have taken direct action and put stickers on krill products highlighting the issues which krill fishing causes. The CEO of the company was also sent an estimated 40,000 emails in twenty-four hours by campaigners in a co-ordinated attempt to force the company to take action. A Boots spokesperson was quoted in the Guardian as saying that they only used krill from a fishery which was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and subjected to yearly checks. Click here to read more on this story.

US man will not get $2.8 million winnings for catching white marlin: An anger who has been battling for a $2.8 million prize from a fishing competition will now not get the money he believes he won fairly, after the U.S. Court of Special Appeals upheld the decision of a lower court. Phil Heasley caught a 76.5lb white marlin off the coast of Maryland in the Ocean City White Marlin Open in summer 2016, becoming the winner as he was the only person to land a fish above the qualifying weight of 60lbs. This won him the main prize of $15,000, but under competition rules anglers are allowed to place bets on themselves this raised the total money he would be awarded to an incredible $2.8 million. Following allegations that fishing had been taking place before the completion start time of 8:30 AM Heasley and his boat crew were required to take lie detector tests in order for the money to be released, which they failed leading to the prize money being withheld. In order to get the money Heasley took the competition organisers to court, but following a trial the judge ruling that the organisers of the competition were within their rights to withhold the prize money. Now following the decision of the appeals court it appears that the matter is finally closed $2.8 million will not be awarded to him. Read more here.

Dolphins in the Mediterranean are breaking fishing nets to find food: Researchers from the University of Exeter have found that dolphins around Cyprus have been breaking open commercial fishing nets to eat the fish inside, due to a lack of their natural sources of food. The researchers said that while fishermen complained about the damage to their nets there problem has been caused by overfishing which is a major problem across the whole of the Mediterranean. The researchers also found that dolphins which had been successful in eating fish from the nets may have ingested plastic as chunks of nets were missing and dead dolphins had been found with plastic in their stomachs. It was also believed that dolphin deaths caused by entanglement in fishing nets may be under-reported due to the protected status of dolphins. Click here to read more.

Sonar is being used to help stop illegal eel fishing: Fisheries officers in Norfolk are using military grade sonar to stop illegal nets being used to catch critically endangered eels. Silver eels have plummeted in numbers in recent years as their value as a food has risen and they are now classed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The right to catch and trade eels is now heavily regulated, but due to the huge sums of money which can be made the illegal poaching of eels is becoming an increasingly serious problem. Now Environment Agency officers have revealed that new boat mounted sonar technology is allowing them to see underwater with previously unimaginable clarity, allowing them to see where illegal nets have been set up. The nets are a major threat to eels, and are especially problematic in the closed season for freshwater anglers as river banks are deserted allowing illegal nets to be set up without anyone noticing. Most illegal nets are fyke nets, a form of trap which also catches fish and aquatic mammals such as otters, which then drown in the nets. Environment officers said that they were confident that the new technology meant that they had the chance to “completely rid waters of illegal instruments.” Read more on this story here.

SNP leader criticised over CFP contradictions: Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party, has been criticised over her confusing and contradictory stance on Scottish fishing and the Common Fisheries Policy during First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament. Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party are steadfast in their belief that Scotland should remain a part of the European Union, but simultaneously hold the view that the Common Fisheries Policy (which is a fundamental aspect of EU membership) is “not fair” on Scottish fishermen and should not apply to Scotland. While many see this viewpoint as deeply contradictory Sturgeon has pointed out that the SNP have campaigned since 2004 for Scotland to come out of the Common Fisheries Policy, and she has repeatedly stated “I don’t support it.” It remains to be seen how this can be combined with continuing EU membership. Read more here.

Blockchain technology (and fishcoin) could help trace seafood and prevent mislabelling: Blockchain – the technology which underpins cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin – could be used to help track the global seafood supply. Blockchain can be understood as an open, distributed ledger where cryptography is used to link and secure records. A new project known as fishcoin aims to harness the blockchain technology and apply it to the global seafood trade. This would work by fishermen and seafood processers sending information on their catch to be inputted into the blockchain. This would then release digital tokens known as fishcoins which will be able to be exchanged for goods and services. While this technology is still to be widely adopted blockchain has the potential to revolutionise many existing industries, and it may well be the case that in the decades to come the main way of tracking and tracing seafood across the world is by using blockchain technology. Read more here.