May 2016 – News

Fishermen and the EU Referendum: The Guardian ran a long in-depth article about the British commercial fishing industry and the forthcoming EU referendum. The article explores how the vast majority of fishermen are opposed to the European Union and the Common Fisheries Policy due to the unfair way in which fish quotas are decided leading to British fishermen catching a lower amount of fish in British waters than foreign fishermen. The article highlights the way in which British fishermen see themselves as one of the groups which has lost out the most through Britain’s membership of the European Union. However, some groups such as eel producers in Northern Ireland support EU membership as it allows fast access to European markets. Read the full article by clicking here.

Tuna Stocks: The Guardian reported this month that the £29billion global tuna industry is at risk due to the overfishing of the most valuable species. The paper reported that the eight most valuable are worth around £8billion to the fishermen who catch them, but when the total value of the entire industry was taken into account including processors, wholesalers and sellers then that figure rises to £29billion. The environmental arm of the Pew Charitable Trust reported that five of eight most valuable species were at risk of stock collapse unless the governments of Japan, the USA and the European Union could work together to bring in lower catch limits. The regulation of tuna fisheries has historically been weak and problematic with few countries wanting to reduce the amount they catch. ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) is an intergovernmental organisation which was set up in 1969 to protect and conserve tuna species and ensure that fishing for tuna species is carried out sustainably. However, due to its ineffectiveness – Pacific bluefin tuna is currently at 3% of the levels it was at before industrial fishing – it is often referred to as the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tuna. Read more here.

National Fish Vote: The vote to find the UK’s national fish has moved a step closer, with the list now reduced to ten species. Unfortunately British Sea Fishing’s attempt to get flounder on the final shortlists has failed, with the humble flatfish failing to make the cut (click here). However, several sea species are there including cod, mackerel and basking shark. Click here to view the full list and vote for a species. The results will be announced on Springwatch on BBC1 on the 15th June.

Mackerel MSC Certification: This month it was announced that mackerel had won back its blue MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) eco label denoting that catches are sustainable. The so-called mackerel war, which started in 2008, saw Iceland and the Faroe Islands massively increase their catches of mackerel which severely damaged mackerel numbers and causing the MSC to suspend the accreditation of seven major mackerel fisheries in the North East Atlantic. However, with the mackerel war now resolved the MSC has restored accreditation to six of the seven fisheries, meaning that MSC certified mackerel will be back on sale in supermarkets around the UK. However, the accreditation has been criticised as mackerel catches will still exceed scientific advice. ICES (the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) state that no more than 668,000 tons of mackerel should be caught, but catches will be higher than this, and it has also been pointed out that 2013 was one of the worst years on record for numbers of juvenile mackerel coming through. Read more here.

Sawfish Catch: American anglers this month caught (and released) a huge sawfish off the coast of Florida. The fish was caught by an angler fishing off Naples Pier, but was far too large to reel in. He was able to walk along the pier to the beach with the huge fish still on his line where he was able to get the sawfish onto land and cut the hooks free and return the fish to the ocean. The species is likely to have been a smalltooth sawfish which can grow to seven metres (21 feet in length). They are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, so it was good to see this one being released by the angler who caught it. See the video of the catch by clicking this link.

Bowhead Whale Sighting: An extremely rare bowhead whale – usually found in arctic waters – was spotted of coast of Cornwall earlier this month. The whale was around seven metres long, meaning it was a juvenile as fully grown bowhead whales are significantly bigger, being one of the largest animals in the world. The sighting follows another bowhead whale seen off the Isle of Scilly in February 2014, although it has been noted that the whale spotted in Cornwall could be the same whale. Bowhead whales can reach lengths of up to eighteen metres and weights of around 100 tons. They have the largest mouth of any animal species in the world and may be able to live for up to 200 years. Bowhead whales were once heavily hunted in their arctic habitat but numbers have increased recently, although their presence in the temperate waters of the British Isles is still very rare indeed. Read more here.

Do Fish Have Feelings?: The New York Times featured an article this month which explored the extent of feelings in fish. The article, by Jonathan Balcombe, drew on scientific research and suggested that fish were much more intelligent than people gave them credit for. Balcombe pointed out that manta rays could recognise their own reflection in a mirror (a sign of intelligence which the vast majority of animals are incapable of showing) and that the small frillfin goby can pro-actively avoid danger by jumping from rockpool to rockpool to evade predators while simultaneously avoiding landing on rocks. Further evidence of fish intelligence/feelings was provided by the orange-dotted tusk fish which uses rocks as a tool to smash open shellfish, and moray eels and groupers which work together to catch prey. The article concluded by saying that we should re-assess how we treat fish, especially in commercial fishing where fish are killed by suffocation or crushing. Read the full article here.

Fishing Subsidies: An article by a professor of fisheries science made a strong argument to end large-scale subsidies to the commercial fishing industry in order to save fish stocks. Ussif Rashid Sumaila, the Director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at the University of British Columbia, pointed out that as fisheries supply both food and employment governments across the world give out subsidies to keep them competitive. However, Prof. Sumalia pointed out that of the $35billion which is spent on subsidies every year across the world, around $20billion went on enhancing the capacity and capability of damaging fisheries and propping up unsustainable fishing operations. Prof. Sumalia went on to say that proposed changes in fisheries management in the Pacific Ocean may help to remove some of the most damaging fishing subsidies in this region. However, the huge amount of fishing subsidies handed out by the EU remains a major issue in Europe. Read the full article by clicking here.

McDonald’s and Sustainable Fishing: A leaked report this month alleged that the fish used by McDonald’s may not be a sustainable as claimed, due to illegal practices in the New Zealand fishing industry which supplies the fast food chain. The report claimed that the New Zealand hoki used by McDonald’s was not sustainable as dumping perfectly edible hauls of fish into the sea was common, and rare and endangered dolphins were also often caught as bycatch. It was also claimed that the amount of fish taken from New Zealand waters may be 2.7 times higher than official numbers stated. If these allegations are true then it would mean the removal of the Marine Stewardship Council accreditation for New Zealand hoki a move which would have major implications for the New Zealand fishing industry and maybe even the wider economy as large corporations such as McDonalds would stop buying from them. Read the full BBC News article on this story here.

Arctic Fishing Restrictions: A pristine area of the Arctic is to be protected from industrial cod fishing following a historic agreement between retailers, fish processors and the commercial fishing industry. Melting arctic ice is meaning that new areas which were previously inaccessible to commercial vessels are now opening up to fishing. However, the deal which was brokered by Greenpeace means that many of the areas will remain untouched as the various companies involved – including Tesco, Young’s Seafood, Bird’s Eye and McDonald’s – will not sell fish which has been caught in the area and commercial fishing vessels will not catch fish there. However, scientific studies will be carried out to ascertain the likely impact of commercial fishing in the region and some fishing could be allowed in the future if it can be proven that it is low impact. Read more by clicking this link.