May 2020 – News

Fishing will be allowed from 13th May (in England): Anglers are once again allowed to go fishing in England after the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown rules were relaxed. From the 13th of May non-contact outdoor activities and sports such as fishing, golf and tennis are now allowed, although they must only take place between members of the same household and the two metre social distancing must be maintained. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for bringing in their own regulations governing angling and at the time of writing angling was still prohibited in these nations under their own lockdown rules. Read more here.

World’s largest super-trawler has been operating off the coast of Scotland: This month news broke that the Annelies Ilena – the largest trawler in the world – has been operating in Scottish waters. Previously known as Atlantic Dawn the vessel was built in Norway for an Irish fishing company, although it is now Dutch owned and Polish flagged. The vessel was part of a fleet of super-trawlers from the EU and Russia which were fishing in waters between the Faroe Islands and the Shetland Islands for pelagic species such as blue whiting. The Annelies Ilena is 144 metres (472 ft) long and displaces just over 14,000 tons. It has a crew of sixty-three and can catch process and freeze 400 tons of fish every twenty-four hours. The i newspaper reported that several of the vessels were fishing in a Special Area of Conservation, but the regulations did not ban commercial fishing in such areas. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace criticised the presence of the trawlers in British waters, but the company which owns the Annelies Ilena stated that they were fishing legally and that all of the fish they caught were for human consumption. Click here to read more on this story.

Highest concentration of microplastics ever found on ocean floor: Research carried out by scientists from the University of Manchester has found the highest ever concentration of microplastic pollution on the seafloor. The scientists carried out research in the Tyrrhenian basin in the Mediterranean Sea near to Italy and found 1.9 million pieces of microplastic per square metre of seabed. The plastics were made up of pieces of clothing fibre, waste plastic and larger items which had broken down into microplastic which is less than one millimetre in diameter. The scientists believe that ocean currents may force the microplastics into undersea trenches and gullies making these areas have a much higher concentration of microplastics than surrounding areas. Read the full article on the BBC News website by clicking here.

LED ‘exit lights’ on nets and traps reduce bycatch: A study has found that illuminating the escape hatches on nets and traps helps fisheries significantly reduce the amount of non-target species being caught as bycatch. Research published in the Journal of the Marine Biological Association found that scallop fisheries had the amount of haddock bycatch reduced by 47 per cent and flatfish bycatch by 25 per cent when the escape hatches were illuminated. It was also found that escape hatches for non-target species were very ineffective at greater depths and at night if they were not lit up. The research could be taken up on a much larger scale if further tests show that it is effective in different fisheries, and the results could also help commercial fishermen who face areas being closed off to fishing if non-target catches reach levels which are deemed too high. Click here to read more on this story.

Killer whales and basking shark spotted off UK coast: A pod of killer whales has been spotted off the Northumberland coast this month. The species is native to the waters around the British Isles, but sightings are rare enough to make national news when they are made. The killer whales were spotted by lobster fishermen who were collecting traps from the waters around Holy Island and they described seeing two adult killer whales and four younger whales. See footage of the killer whales by clicking here. Just over a hundred miles further south a huge (and harmless to humans) basking shark spotted off the coast of East Yorkshire. Alan Johnson was birdwatching off Bempton cliffs when he saw the basking shark, which stayed in the area for around fifteen minutes. See pictures of the shark by clicking here.

Is the coronavirus crisis allowing fish stocks to recover: Discussions over the extent to which the coronavirus crisis is allowing fish stocks to recover continued this month. Collapsing demand for fish combined with restrictions on importation and exports have seen many fishing vessels across the world remain in port since the crisis began. Fishing nations such as France and Spain saw their levels of commercial fishing drop by seventy per cent at the start of the crisis and, although they increased a little, they have remained well below pre-crisis levels into April. An article on the Politico website this month examined how much this would actually allow fish stocks to recover. In the article Louise Guillot and Aitor Hernández-Morales state that the last time commercial fishing was prevented from happening for a long period of time was during the Second World War and during this time fish stocks increased markedly. While the coronavirus related commercial fishing hiatus will be a lot shorter it still may produce an increase in fish stocks which will provide enough evidence to add weight to calls for a longer fishing closed season. The article states that campaigners are also calling for any financial assistance European governments give to the fishing industry to have conditions attached which require fishermen to operate in a more environmentally friendly way. This could include the use of more selective fishing gear, reduced discards of fish and cameras fitted to boats to require that fishing is being conducted properly. The article also says that some European fishing organisations are asking to roll over some of their quota to next year to allow larger catches then to make up for the reduced catches this year, something which ocean conservation organisations are opposed to. Click here to read the full article.

26 tons of shark fins seized in Hong Kong: Customs officials in Hong Kong have made their biggest ever seizure of illegal shark fins, taking two separate containers each of which held 13 tons of fins. The shipment had come from Ecuador and it was calculated that around 38,500 individual sharks – mostly silky and thresher sharks – would have been killed to supply this volume of shark fins. The total value of the haul was over HK$8 million ($1 million US dollars) and the seizure dwarfs the previous largest capture of 3.8 tons of illegal shark fins which was made last year. Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Department said that he owner of a logistics company involved in the importation of the fins had been arrested and bailed. Read the full story here.

BBC article asks who owns British fishing quotas: The BBC’s Reality Check series looked at the complex issue of the ownership of British fishing quotas this month. The article state that the government’s plans to make Britain an independent coastal state after the Brexit transition period ends are complicated by the fact that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all responsible for distributing and selling their own quotas. For England a significant amount of quota is already in foreign hands with the right to catch 130,000 tons of fish in English waters (worth £160 million) being owned by fishing companies from Spain, the Netherlands and Iceland. These companies must have an “economic link” with the UK by landing at least half of their catch in UK ports or by having their vessels crewed by mostly British fishermen. The Fisheries Bill which is currently going through Parliament makes no provision to return foreign-owned quota to British fishermen. While the government and commercial fishing organisations such as Fishing For Leave want the system changed to reduce the foreign ownership of quotas (or at least increase the economic link between foreign fishing boats using British quota) legal experts have said that this would be extremely difficult. Dr Emma Cardwell from the University of Glasgow told the BBC that “the government is very vulnerable to litigation if it tries to reallocate quota … any foreign fishing companies that purchased UK quota in good faith would be very likely to sue if this was now taken away from them.” Read the full Reality Check article on the BBC website by clicking here.

Silver eels show recovery in British rivers: Several newspapers reported this month that elvers (baby silver eels) had made a “dramatic return” to British rivers. Silver eels have a complicated and poorly-understood migration pattern which sees the adult eels leave European waters and migrate to the Sargasso Sea where they spawn and then die. The eggs then hatch and the young eels make their way back to Europe and once they are mature return to the Sargasso Sea and continue the cycle. In recent decades issues such as pollution, overfishing of baby eels and barriers to migration and huge demand from Asia (where eels are a delicacy) have seen silver eel numbers plummet. However, measures such as a ban on exporting eels out of the EU have combined with favourable climactic conditions to see increased elver numbers in rivers such as the Severn. Read more on this story by clicking here.

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