March 2020 – News

Coronavirus pandemic and fishing: This month the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has continued to spread across the world. At the time of writing (late March 2020) the UK is in a state of lockdown with people only allowed to leave their own home for specific purposes and the majority of businesses across the UK closed. This has affected fishing in a number of ways:

  • Worldwide fall in the demand for fish: Commercial fishermen across the country have stopped going to sea as the dramatic worldwide fall in the demand for fish has meant that it is uneconomical to commercially catch fish. An article on the BBC website stated that export markets in Italy, Spain, China and France have collapsed due to the coronavirus crisis, and the market value of species such as pollock had fallen from £3 to 41 pence per kilo. Much of the UK’s commercial catch is exported, meaning the loss of these markets has been particularly damaging for the British fishing industry. A number of commercial fishermen remarked that the cost of going to sea (fuel, crew wages, wear and tear on vessels and insurance) cost more than they would make from their catches. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was “working closely” with the commercial fishermen to support the industry. Read more here.
  • Is fishing classed as exercise?: Towards the end of March the government put the UK on a form of lockdown with people only permitted to leave their homes for a number of specific reasons. One of these reasons was to exercise once a day which led to questions being asked as to whether or not going fishing counts as exercise and was therefore permitted. An article in the Express discussed this issue (here). However, as the month went on it became apparent that angling is not permitted as the government clarified that the only types of exercise which are acceptable are walking, running/jogging or cycling alone or with members of your household. Furthermore, non-essential travel is not allowed meaning that anglers could not drive or walk to a fishing mark. The Angling Trust has now released updated information stating that “until further notice we should all refrain from fishing. This is about saving lives and supporting the NHS.” See the Angling Trust statement here.

Could synthetic fish be the answer to overfishing?: An article on the BBC website has explored the idea that synthetic lab-grown fish could solve the issue of overfishing the world’s seas and oceans. Companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have achieved high levels of publicity for their plant-based meat products, while other companies such as Finless Foods are doing the same with fish. However, Finless Foods is different as instead of basing their products on plants (as Beyond Meat and Impossible do) they are creating artificial fish from stem cells. These are cells taken from adult creatures which can be grown into new specialised cells within a lab. In terms of fish this could mean growing the muscle cells which make up fish in an artificial environment. Michael Seldon, the co-founder of Finless Foods, told the BBC it was like “3D printing fish.” Finless Foods currently only produce ground fish as creating full fillets is not yet possible, and their products are not currently available on a commercial basis as they are not yet approved by regulators. However, they could be available to buy from retailers within a few years, and other companies such as the Singapore-based Shiok Meats are working on a similar methods to produce shellfish and crustacean products. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Brexit offers opportunity to ban supertrawlers from British waters: Environmental groups such as Greenpeace have stated that Brexit offers the perfect opportunity to ban industrial supertrawlers from British waters. Currently the UK is powerless to stop industrial supertrawlers operating close to the British coastline as this is allowed under EU laws which the UK is signed up to. The issue came to public attention in 2019 when the 142-metre long Lithuanian supertrawler Margiris fished for over a week in the English Channel, catching up to 250 tons of fish per day. Local fishermen were outraged that the UK government was not able to ban the vessel, while environmental groups blamed high numbers of dolphins washing up dead on the south coast of England on the Margiris. Once the Brexit transition phase has ended in December 2020 the UK is set to regain control of its own waters, meaning that supertrawlers could finally be banned from fishing around the UK coastline. Chris Thorne, Greenpeace’s Oceans Campaigner said: “Our government likes to boast about its credentials as a global oceans champion … Ministers should take a long, hard look at whether allowing supertrawlers to operate in UK waters is compatible with sustainable management of our waters.” Read more on this story here.

Man who illegally exported endangered eels avoids jail: A man who was convicted last month of illegally exporting silver eels out of the UK has avoided going to jail. Gilbert Khoo, 67, was caught by UK border force officials trying to smuggle 200kgs of glass eels out of Heathrow Airport in 2017. It is believed that prior to being apprehended Khoo may have illegally exported eels worth as much as £53 million from the UK to Asia between 2015 and 2017. Judge Jeffrey Pegden QC handed Khoo a two year jail sentence but this was suspended for two years. He was also ordered to carry out 240 hours of unpaid work and confiscation proceedings to recover the money made from the illegal activity will follow at a later date. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Possible impact on Brexit on Danish fishing industry analysed: An article on the BBC website this month looked at the way Brexit would impact the fishing industry of Denmark. A large proportion of the Danish fishing industry’s catches come from British waters and if the UK is successful in taking back control of its fishing ground many Danish fishermen will be left in a very uncertain position. Esben Sverdrup-Jensen of the Danish Pelagic Producer’s Organisation was interviewed in the article and said “I can’t really accept the argument of handing anything back to the UK, as Danish fishermen have been operating in those waters for centuries.” Fishing is set to be a major issue in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, despite is relative economic unimportance. The EU seem determined that European fishermen are allowed continued access to British waters in return for a EU-UK trade deal, but the British government appears committed to reject this an regain control of British waters. Read more on this story by clicking here.

EU fishermen could block ports if banned from British waters: An article in the Times this month stated that EU fishermen could block ports and disrupt trade across the English Channel if they are barred from accessing UK waters after the Brexit transition deal ends on the 31st December. The French Europe minister Amélie de Montchalin has already warned this month that the forthcoming negotiations over fishing could turn into a “very nasty battle” while the Times quotes a Whitehall source as saying that the UK is “vulnerable” to when it came to protecting cross Channel trade stating that “in the event of the blockade there is very little we could do.” The Times also quotes a French government source which says that President Macron of France is concerned about street protests and civil unrest if the French fishing industry is banned from accessing British waters. As was reported last month the UK government investing more resources in additional coastal patrol boats in preparation for managing British fishing waters once the Brexit transitional phase is over. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Supermarkets criticised for farmed fish sustainability: A number of UK supermarkets have been criticised for misleading practices on the sustainability of the farmed fish they sell. A report by the Changing Markets Foundation was reported in the i newspaper and found that Aldi and Iceland were the worst offenders when it came to selling farmed fish as they did not make consumers aware that such fish have been fed on wild caught fish. The report stated that UK shoppers last year indirectly consumed 177,000 of wild fish by eating species such as salmon and prawns which had been fed on fishmeal and fish oil in farms. This equated to a hidden 172 grams of wild fish for every 100 grams of farmed fish eaten in the UK. The British Retail Consortium was quoted in the i article as saying that “retailers are dedicated to producing and sourcing marine products responsibly.” Read more on this story by clicking here.

Documents show UK and Norway feared war over fishing: Documents from the 1970s which have recently been released show that the UK and Norway feared coming to war over fishing disputes. The documents were found in the National Archives by the Express newspaper and show that Norway accused British trawlers of damaging the nets and fishing equipment of Norwegian vessels. One Norwegian skipper said that he informed British vessels of the location of his equipment but it was still damaged, costing him the equivalent of £50,000 by today’s valuation. The situation was then further inflamed when Britain sent the Royal Navy frigate HMS Mohawk to the area to protect British trawlers. After heavy diplomatic pressure from Norway and a threat to send in their own naval vessels the situation was eventually resolved when the UK agreed to withdraw HMS Mohawk. The little-known incident is reminiscent of the three Cod Wars which took place between Britain and Iceland from the late 1950s to the early 1970s and there are fears that with the UK withdrawing from the EU further European conflicts over fishing rights could occur. Click here to read more on this story.

Environmentalist calls for fish boycott due to dolphin bycatch: The prominent environmentalist George Monbiot has said that people should stop eating fish due to the number of dolphin deaths caused by commercial fishing. Monbiot stated that a high number of dolphins had washed up on British beaches with commercial fishing believed to the main culprit, while dolphin numbers in the Indian Ocean have fallen by almost 90% due to deaths caused by gill nets set for tuna. With measures to protect dolphins and other sea mammals proving ineffective Monbiot has called for people to stop eating fish until the commercial fishing industry across the world is able to prevent dolphin and marine mammal deaths. Read more here.

Project aims to restore the UK’s lost seagrass meadows: A project is underway to restore seagrass meadows around the coastline of the UK. It is estimated that seagrass meadows once covered huge underwater areas around the UK but commercial fishing, damage by anchors, pollution and the development of ports and harbours has seen nine tenths of them lost. The Seagrass Ocean Rescue project has already planted 800,000 seeds which will eventually grow into seagrass which can be up to one metre tall. As well as providing a habitat for a range of sea creatures seagrass also captures huge amounts of carbon, helping in the fight against climate change. Click here to read more on this story.