March 2019 – News


Mackerel in British waters set to be stripped of its sustainable status: Mackerel caught in the North East Atlantic will no longer receive the Marine Stewardship Council’s blue label certifying it is from a sustainable source after years of overfishing and quotas being set higher than scientific advice recommends. Mackerel account for around a third of all fish landed in the UK, and the mackerel fishery is worth around £200 million. Camiel Derichs, Europe Director for the MSC told the Independent that “declining stocks, quotas set above new scientific advice and poor recruitment have combined to mean that the fisheries no longer meet the MSC’s requirements.” The news follows the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea’s findings that mackerel stocks have fallen from 4.79 million tonnes in 2011 to 2.75 million tonnes in 2018. This led to scientific advice to cut catches by two thirds to allow the stocks to recover, but the EU and neighbouring nations have continued to keep quotas at a much higher level. MSC certification for North East Atlantic mackerel was lost in 2012 following the so-called mackerel war when Iceland and the Faroe Islands unilaterally awarded themselves huge increases to their mackerel quotas, angering Norway and the EU which were fishing for mackerel on a sustainable basis. The MSC certification was won back in 2016 after an agreement was reached on quotas between the nations. It remains to be seen if scientific advice will be followed and MSC certification will be won back for North East Atlantic mackerel for a second time. Read more on the Independent’s website by clicking here.

Fishing for Leave protest on River Tyne: A protest backing Britain to leave the European Union took place on the River Tyne this month. A flotilla of around twenty boats set off from North Shields and made its way up the Tyne to Newcastle Quayside. A number of vehicles also made the same journey on land, including a lorry which displayed a Fishing for Leave banner. The protest was organised by Aaron Brown of the Fishing for Leave group, who stated that the aim was “to tell MPs enough is enough” and said that politicians were trying to “thwart democracy.” Despite making up only a small part of the economy fishing has been a highly debated aspect of EU membership, with many within the massively pro-leave commercial fishing industry believing that the UK gets a bad deal from current EU fishing rules. The government has stated that the current plans to leave the EU will benefit the UK’s fishing industry. Read more on the BBC News website by clicking here.

Trawling causes ‘permanent damage’ to the marine environment: Research from New Zealand has found that trawling can cause permanent damage to the seabed, with delicate marine habitats failing to recover even decades after fishing had ceased, especially in deep sea areas. New Zealand scientists studied Graveyard Seamounts, an area of very deep raised ocean floor to the east of the country. When they looked at some of the seamounts which had been closed to fishing since 2001 they found that there had been very little recovery describing the seamounts as consisting of “bare rock and rubble.” The research suggests that the damage caused by deep sea commercial fishing may be very long term, or even permanent, and even stopping trawling altogether is no guarantee that the marine environment will ever recover. Click here to read the full article.


Could a huge change in the way fish are killed be on the way?: An article in The Atlantic, the American magazine which focuses on politics, science and current affairs, has questioned the way in which fish are killed. In the article Ben Goldfarb begins by discussing a new fishing boat called the Blue North. The $40 million long-liner is fitted with the most modern fish catching technology available, but also has a ‘stunner’ fitted. This is a device which knocks fish which have been caught unconscious with a current of around 35 volts before they are killed. The article states that this is incredibly rare in the commercial fishing world. The overwhelming majority of fish which are caught are simply thrown into a hold where they flap away until they suffocate to death. Until now this has been a perfectly acceptable way to kill commercially caught fish, but times may be changing, with Goldfarb pointing out that cows have to be stunned before being slaughtered, but the same rules do not apply to fish. With the belief that fish do not feel pain (as they do not possess a cerebral cortex like mammals) being increasingly challenged it may only be a short amount of time before the commercial fishing industry, along with recreational anglers, have to answer some uncomfortable questions about the way they treat fish. Read the full article here.

Is a cleanup of the world’s seas actually possible?: An article in the Guardian this month looked at whether removing pollution and plastic from the world’s seas and oceans in a significant way is really possible. The much hyped Ocean Cleanup project – the brainchild of young Dutch inventor Boyan Slat – has been beset by problems since it has begun testing in real world conditions, and many scientists and experts are claiming that the technology underpinning the project is fundamentally flawed. This has led to debates about whether or not it is actually possible to clean up the plastic and other forms of pollution in the world’s seas. The article quotes marine biologist Dr Jennifer Lavers from the University of Tasmania in Australia, who states that heavily promoted ocean cleanup projects give people “a false sense of hope that this team of people have got [plastic pollution] covered, and that we just need to throw some money at the problem.” However, other inventions such as the Seabin (a device which can filter 4kg of rubbish from the sea per day) and Mr Trash Wheel (a solar and tide powered wheel used in Baltimore’s inner harbour) are successfully removing pollution and rubbish from the sea. However, Dr Lavers makes the point that these devices are successful on a small scale in sheltered, inshore locations. Removing pollution from the open ocean many miles away from land, which Slat’s Ocean Cleanup project aims to do – is a much more challenging task. Others, including Seabin’s co-founder Pete Ceglinski, have stressed the importance of education, stating that he doesn’t want people to think it is ok to throw rubbish and litter into the sea because the Seabin will take it back out for them. Read the entire article in the Guardian by clicking here.

Sea lice problems continue for the Scottish salmon fishing industry: One of the main salmon producers in Scotland have announced sharp reductions in the tonnage of salmon being produced, as problems with parasitic sea lice continue to blight the industry. Mowi (previously known as Marine Harvest) announced that in 2018 the total amount of salmon produced was 38,444 tonnes, down from 60,186 tonnes in 2017. The salmon industry in Scotland has massively expanded in recent years, and has been hailed as an economic success story by politicians. However, conservationists and marine scientists have highlighted the impact that intensive fish farming has on the marine environment and the poor welfare standards that farmed salmon endure. The industry has also been battling against an aggressive and ongoing outbreak of parasitic sea lice which multiply rapidly in the cramped open-water cages salmon are farmed in. There have also been concerns that fish farms are taking huge numbers of wild wrasse from the sea to use as ‘cleaner fish’ to remove parasites from farmed salmon. Read more here.

Large bull shark caught 18 miles from sea in Australia: Two men have caught a 9ft (2.8 metre) long bull shark in a stretch of river 18 miles (30km) from the sea. Daniel Yu was one of the anglers who caught the shark in the George’s River to the west of Sydney in New South Wales. He was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that he was “shocked” to catch such a large shark in an area used by the public for recreational activity such as riding jet skis and going boating. Bull sharks are one of the few shark species which are dangerous to humans and are notable for their ability to live in almost totally fresh water. The bull shark was returned to the water alive after being photographed. Read more and see pictures here.

Mako sharks now classed as endangered: Shortfin mako sharks, the fastest swimming shak species in the world and an occasional visitor to British waters, has had its conservation status changed from Vulnerable to Endangered. The change was made by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), the world governing body on the conservation status of all animal species. Numbers of shortfin mako sharks have declined by around sixty per cent in some areas, a trend which is also reflected in its close relative the longfin mako. Despite this there are no regulations or catch limits on these species, and mako shark meat has even been found on sale at Asian food retailers in the UK. Conservationists, such as Lee Crockett of the Shark Conservation Fund, have warned that unless action is taken there is a risk that mako sharks could be pushed into extinction. Read more by clicking here.

Rare blue lobster caught off Northumberland coast: A blue lobster has been spared from the plate after being spared by a fishmonger. Lobsters are usually a dark greyish colour, but a light blue specimen (which only occurs once in every two million lobsters) was caught off the Northumberland coast and then transported to a North Shields fishmongers. However, instead of ending up in the cooking pot the rare lobster was transported to a new home at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Tynemouth by fishmonger Tony McLean, who said that his shop had been busier than ever when the lobster was in with people coming in to view the rare crustacean. Click here to read more and see pictures of the lobster.


Over one thousand dolphins have washed up dead on French coastline: Around 1,100 dolphins have washed up dead on the French coast since January, a record number with industrial commercial fishing being blamed for the animals’ deaths. Willy Daubin of La Rochelle University’s National Centre for Scientific Research was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that the number dolphins found dead this year had already exceed the number caught in the whole of last year. Daubin stated that ninety per cent of the dolphins found had been killed by becoming entangled in commercial fishing nets. Many of the dolphins were found in a mutilated condition with fins cut off, with Daubin explaining that this was done by fishermen to remove the suffocated dolphins from the fishing gear and save the net. French Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy has stated that action will be taken to protect dolphins, with the use of acoustic repellent devices to keep dolphins away from trawlers being considered. However, there are claims that commercial fishermen do not use such devices as they may also scare away the fish they are targeting, and only switch on the devices when there are observers on board. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Mako shark head bitten off: A large mako shark head has been found floating in the sea by an Australian fisherman, leading to speculation that an even larger shark consumed the rest of the mako shark. Trapman Bermagui found the mako shark head when he was shark fishing off the coast of Sydney and estimated that the head alone weighed 100kg (220lbs). Mako sharks can weigh over 1200lbs and are the fastest swimming shark in the world, being able to reach speeds in excess of 40mph. Read more and see photos by clicking here.

Chinese fishmeal plants spell trouble for Gambian fish stocks: An article in the Guardian this month looked at the impact which large scale Chinese-owned fish plants were having on the African nation of The Gambia. The article explains that small-scale local fishermen who used to sell their catch locally have received a boost as they can now sell all manner of fish to the recently opened fishmeal plant. However, these plants process fish into fishmeal which is then exported abroad to be used as feed in fish farms. The article, however, points out that this is “wreaking havoc on the environment, local employment, food security and the tourism economy.” As the fish is exported a major source of food has been removed from the poorest Gambians, and small-scale fish sellers are left with nothing if catches are poor as the factories have priority for any fish which are caught. Furthermore, the simple, automated process which are used to process the fish means that little employment has been created for Gambians – the average plant only employs around thirty people and some of these are skilled Chinese workers rather than local Gambians. There have also been complaints that the waste products and fish which are rejected by the factories are left littering the land. A local businessman told the Guardian that “the beaches that were once beloved by tourists are covered in reeking fish carcasses.” There are fears that locals have little power to object to the fish processing plants which are backed by wealthy and powerful Chinese businesses, and further fears that the Chinese will withdraw money they have invested in local community activities. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Diver ‘eaten’ and spat out by whale: A diver has escaped unharmed after being ‘eaten’ by a large whale. Rainer Schimpf, from South Africa, is the director of a diving tours company and was planning on photographing a run of sardines in Port Elizabeth Harbour. The run of small fish attracts larger predators such as seals, sharks and marine birds, but also attracted a Bryde’s whale – a filter feeding species which can reach fifteen metres (50ft) in length. Mr Schimpf was filming a shark which was feeding on the sardines when the Bryde’s whale sucked him into its mouth. Schimpf was then spat out by the whale and was able to make his way back to his boat unharmed, with the whole incident being filmed by members of his team. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Robert Goodwill appointed fisheries minister: Robert Goodwill, the MP for Scarborough and Whitby, has been appointed Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, replacing George Eustice who quit the role over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit. Goodwill was previously a farmer before beginning his career in politics. He was an MEP between 1999 and 2004, and has represented his constituency since the 2005 general election. Despite describing himself as a “staunch Eurosceptic” he voted remain in the 2016 referendum. Click here to read more on this story.

Research shows that plastic pollution could bring pathogens to UK: Research by the University of Sterling has shown that toxic pathogens could be transported to Scottish beaches by plastic pollution. The researchers found that tiny plastic beads known as nurdles – which are the raw material plastic is manufactured from – could be effectively acting as rafts to transport harmful bacteria across the world. Dr Richard Quilliam, who was lead researcher on the study, said: “when a pathogen is bound to a piece of plastic it’s going to be protected, as it can hide from things that normally kill it, like UV light” he went on to say that when such pathogens were bound to plastics which were designed to last for hundreds of years then they were able to travel great distances across oceans. Research has already shown that cholera has been transported from India to the USA on plastic pollution, and 45% of nurdles analysed on beaches in East Lothian in Scotland were contaminated with E. coli which can cause serious health problems in humans. Read more by clicking here.

Dead whale found to have 40kg of plastic in its stomach: A Cuvier’s beaked whale which washed up dead in the Phillipines was found to have 40kg (88lb) of plastic in its stomach. The whale was found in Mindanao in the southern Philippines and was dissected by staff at a local museum who found sixteen rice sacks, four banana plantation bags and multiple plastic shopping bags inside the whale. Many Asian nations have problems with plastic pollution, with five countries (China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand) being responsible for around sixty per cent of the world’s plastic waste. Click here to read more on this story on the BBC website.

Chancellor announces huge Atlantic marine reserve: The Chancellor Philip Hammond has used the government will support the creation of the Atlantic’s largest marine reserve around Ascension Island. The island, which is a UK overseas territory, will have a 171,000 square mile (443,000 sq km) marine reserve designated in its waters. Previously half of Ascension Island’s waters had been designated as a marine reserve, but it has now been confirmed that the area of the reserve will be doubled in size. Charles Clover, the executive director of the Blue Marine Foundation, welcomed the move saying: “The reserve will give lasting protection to one of the last wild places left in the ocean, a hotspot for green turtles, sharks, swordfish, tuna and some of the world’s largest recorded marlin.” Read more on this story by clicking here.

Sharp increase in number of ‘ocean heatwaves’: Heatwaves are sweeping through parts of the world’s seas and oceans like heatwaves, destroying seagrass, coral and kelp forests, according to a story in this month’s Guardian. The research, which was led by the Marine Biological Association which is based in Plymouth, found that ocean heatwaves are becoming more common, prolonged and severe, with the number jumping by fifty per cent in the thirty years to 2016. Dan Smale, the lead researchers of the project, likened ocean heatwaves to wildfires on land which take out large areas of forest, telling the Guardian “you see the kelp and seagrasses dying in front of you. Within weeks or months they are just gone, along hundreds of kilometres of coastline.” Ocean heatwaves may have a further impact on climate change, as the sea is a major absorber of carbon dioxide, but warmer water absorbs a lower amount of greenhouse causing gasses. The researchers also pointed to socioeconomic impacts, such as conflict between American and Canadian fishermen when warming sea temperatures led to a mass die-off of economically valuable lobsters along the North American coastline. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Sunfish found far away from natural habitat: A rare species of sunfish has been found many miles away from its natural habitat, sparking confusion amongst marine scientists after a hoodwinker sunfish which washed up on a beach in California. This species – which was only discovered in 2014 – is usually found in the Southern Hemisphere in the waters of Australia, New Zealand and southern Chile. It is unknown why this species was found so far from its natural home and in the opposite hemisphere to where it is usually found. Read more here.

Microplastic pollution is ‘absolutely everywhere’: New research has revealed that microplastic pollution is much more widespread than previously thought, with freshwater habitats such as rivers and lakes containing concentrations as high as marine environments. The research which brings together existing studies, which was led by scientists at Bangor University. The found that the River Tame near Manchester was one of the most contaminated places examined with more than 1,000 pieces of microplastic found per litre of water, while microplastic pollution was also found in remote places such as Loch Lomond in Scotland which had 2.4 pieces per litre. Further research shows microplastic pollution being present across the world, with studies in the Yangtze River in China and a separate study along the Spanish coast showing that microplastic was present there. The effects of eating seafood which has ingested microplastics is not yet know, although research from Singapore has proved that microplastics can harbour bacteria which is harmful to humans. Read the Guardian article on this story by clicking here.