November 2017 – News

European Commission Gives Untested Electric Pulse Fishing Go Ahead: The European Parliament Fisheries Committee, the branch of the European Commission which deals with fishing and fisheries, has voted to allow a type of commercial fishing which uses electricity to shock fish out of the seabed to go ahead. Pulse trawling with electricity was previously classed as an “unconventional fishing method” by the EU, meaning it was restricted in the same way that fishing with explosives or poisonous substances are. However, this vote paves the way for electric pulse trawling to be classed as a conventional fishing method and licenced like any other form of commercial fishing. Pulse trawling was developed in the Dutch fishing industry in the early 1990s and an increasing number of Dutch vessels have been equipped with pulse gear in the last twenty years. Pulse trawling is used to replace traditional beam trawling, mostly for flatfish species across sandy or muddy seabeds. It is attractive to commercial fishermen as the pulse trawling gear is up to ten times lighter than traditional beam trawls, meaning that much less fuel is used when fishing. It works by sending an electric pulse through the seabed which forces the muscles of flatfish into contracting and forces the fish up and out of the seabed and into the net of the pulse trawler. However, there is very little research into the medium to long term effects of pulse trawling, with the little evidence which has been carried out indicating that gadoid species (cod and related species) may have their vertebrae cracked if they get too close to the pulse trawl, and that sources of food in the seabed may be killed by the electric pulses. Due to the Common Fisheries Policy which the UK is signed up to Dutch fishing vessels equipped with electric pulse trawling gear can fish to within twelve miles of the British coastline, and if pulse trawling is allowed to expand all EU countries with a fishing industry will be able to develop their own pulse trawling fleets. The move to expand pulse trawling will still have to get through a vote by MEPs in the European Parliament. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Dutch Fishing Chief Tells UK to “Disappointment” Over Post Brexit Fishing: A prominent figure in the Dutch fishing industry has claimed that the UK will be in for “real disappointment” in the fishing deal it get after leaving the European Union. Pim Visser of the Netherlands Fishing Federation claims that the UK is to blame for the issues in the British fishing industry, as it only distributes a tiny proportion of its quota to small inshore boats and gives the vast majority to larger fishing vessels. Mr Visser – who UK sea anglers may recognise from his appearance on the BBC’s Newsnight earlier this year where he spoke in favour of electric pulse trawling – said this problem was “created by London.” He went on to say that leaving the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy would not solve the problems in the British fishing industry. His comments come after representatives of the Belgian, Danish, Irish, and French fishing industries have demanded continued access to British fishing waters after the UK leaves the EU. Many of these countries rely on access to British waters for a substantial proportion of their catches. Read more on this story by clicking here. In related news a petition has been launched by UKIP MEP Mike Hookem to ensure that the UK leaves the Common Fisheries Policy after Brexit. Click here to view and sign the petition.

Plastic Pollution Continues To Make News: Pollution of the marine environment has continued to have a high profile in the news this month, with plastic pollution in particular continuing to be an issue which is highlighted by many newspapers and media outlets. The Guardian reported that the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) annual beach survey has found a 10% rise in rubbish found on British beaches – much of it plastic. The MCS found that small, unidentifiable pieces of plastic were the most commonly found type of rubbish on the beach, but single use plastic from food packaging made up around 20% of the litter. The results of the survey have led to calls on the government to introduce a charge or tax on single use plastics, something which is likely to be effective based on how the use of plastic carrier bags has declined significantly since a 5p charge was introduced. Read the full Guardian article on this here. These calls for better recycling of waste plastics may already be having an impact. Supermarket chains Co-Op and Iceland have backed a bottle deposit scheme which will reduce plastic pollution. Currently just over half of plastic bottles in the UK are recycled, but in countries with bottle deposit schemes this is closer to 90%. Other supermarket chains did not back the implementation of this type of scheme, but it may be the case that the government makes this type of recycling mandatory in order to hit recycling targets. Click here to read more. The impact of human-made pollution reaching marine environments was vividly highlighted this month when a lobster was caught in Canadian waters with a ‘tattoo’ of the Pepsi logo on one of its claws. The lobster has been caught off the coast of New Brunswick in eastern Canada and was having rubber bands fitted to its claws when the distinctive blue and red colours of the Pepsi logo was found to be embedded into its claw. It is not known how the image came to be attached to the lobster, one theory is that the lobster somehow grew around a Pepsi can which had sunk to the bottom of the sea. Click here to read more and see pictures of the lobster’s claw. Finally, some brighter news about plastics in the ocean. A Spanish company has successfully made designer sunglasses out of waste plastic recovered from the sea. Barcelona-based Sea2See is getting fishermen to bring waste plastic back in with them, and then melting it down to create the sunglasses. Around 10kg of plastic is needed to make one pair of glasses, with the leftover plastic being handed over to other companies to use to make further products from. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Millions Of Fish Dumped as EU Countries Fail to Follow Own Regulations: An article in the Express has reported that tens of millions of fish are dumped back in the sea by EU fishing vessels every year as rules around the Common Fisheries Policy’s Landing Obligation are not being enforced. The article draws on a report entitled ‘Thrown Away: How Illegal Discarding in the Baltic Sea is Failing EU Fisheries and Citizens’ by the campaign group Our Fish, and states that in some EU fisheries up to 60% of the fish caught may be discarded. According to European Commission guidelines “all catches of regulated commercial species on-board to be landed and counted against quota.” However, this is being widely ignored, putting fish stocks at risk, with the report revealing that in 2015 and 2016 over thirty million Baltic Sea cod were discarded illegally. The report follows research released by the campaigning environmental legal group ClientEarth last month which found that the EU was doing little or nothing about illegal fishing, and failing to implement regulations which have been in place to punish illegal fishing since 2010. Read the full article on this story by clicking here.

Arrest Made After Ready-to-Spawn Sea Trout Allegedly Caught River Wear: A man has been arrested and two others are described as being “at large” after an alleged fish poaching incident on the River Wear. The Northern Echo reports that Environment Agency Officers arrested a 27-year-old man on suspicion of poaching sea trout. The newspaper showed pictures of what it described as an “illegal gaff” (a one metre long metal pole with a large hook on the end) and thirteen sea trout, eleven of which were females which were ready to spawn and would have been carrying around 35,000 eggs. At this time of year sea trout migrate up rivers to spawn, with a fishing season and legislation in place to protect the species during this period. The Environment Agency incident into this incident is described as “ongoing”. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Mexico To Create Huge Marine Reserve: The Mexican government has said that it will create a 57,000 square mile (150,000 square km) marine reserve around the Revillagigedo archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, the largest in North America. The archipelago, which is at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, is home to several hundred of species of fish, as well as rays, turtles and whales. Fishing, mining and new developments such as hotels will be banned around the marine reserve, which is being established despite significant opposition from the countries commercial fishing industry. The Mexican Navy will be tasked with protecting the reserve. Read more by clicking here.

Norwegian Cod is Nigeria’s Favourite Fish: Many people may be surprised to learn that the most popular fish dish in Nigeria come from the cold European waters of Norway, several thousand miles away. Stockfish is cod which has been preserved by being dried in the sun. Only Norway can successfully produce stockfish in marketable quantities as it relies on a plentiful supply of cod, and cold, crisp, sunny weather to dry the cod in the required manner. Stockfish is a mainstay of Nigerian cooking and ts popularity stems from the civil war in Nigeria in the late 1960s, when government troops fought to stop the Biafra state from becoming independent. As many as two million civilians starved to death in the crisis caused by the conflict, and Norway sent tons of stockfish as humanitarian aid. As stockfish is dried it can be stored without refrigeration for many months without spoiling, and its high protein and nutrient-rich nature mean it is ideal for combating the malnutrition many Nigerians suffered from during the civil war. The popularity of stockfish has endured since the civil war, indeed it is more popular now than ever. Read more on the Nigerian love of stockfish by clicking here.

Leave Voting Grimsby Accused of Double Standards: Residents of Grimsby have been branded “idiots” and accused of double standards after representatives of the town’s seafood industry asked for special free trade status after Brexit. Around 70% of people in Grimsby voted to leave the EU in last year’s referendum – one of the highest in the UK. The decline in Grimsby’s once-thriving fishing industry is seen as a major reason for this, with many Grimsby residents blaming EU rules and the Common Fisheries Policy for putting local trawlermen out of work. However, Grimsby is now an important centre for fish processing, although the vast majority of fish which are processed in Grimsby are imported from abroad. Once Britain leaves the EU this processing industry could be hit with high tariffs and taxes on the goods it imports and sends back out to Europe, hence the call for special dispensation. Many parts of the remain supporting media have seized on this, accusing the Grimsby fishing industry of double standards and saying that as they voted for Brexit they will have to deal with the consequences of it. However, many have defended the Grimsby fishing industry, saying that it was EU actions which destroyed the profitability of the regions fishing fleet and forced it into a fish-processing industry which is heavily reliant on the EU. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Coral Breeding Programme Offers Hope Great Barrier Reef: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest structure in the world made by living organisms, but climate change is causing coral bleaching, putting the survival of the entire Great Barrier Reef at risk. Indeed, a report issued last year found that bleaching – the process of coral expelling algae and then withering away – is much more prevalent across the reef than previously thought, and is set to get worse due to global warming. However, scientists have successfully tested a method of taking coral eggs and sperm from healthy reefs and transplanting them into damaged or bleached areas of reef. This has offered a “glimmer of hope”, not just to the Great Barrier Reef but to other reef systems around the world. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Britain Must Not be the “Jellyfished Spined Man of Europe” after Brexit: Two commercial fishing organisations have said that the revival of the UK’s fishing industry will be one of the major successes of Brexit, but Theresa May must keep to the plan of reclaiming the UK’s fishing waters. The National Association of Fisherman’s Federations (NFFO) and the Scottish Fishing Federation (SFF) made the claim at a briefing with journalists, and also said there would only need to be a nine month transitional period for fisheries after the UK officially leaves the EU in March 2019 – not the two-year period which all other industries will follow. Bertie Armstrong, the chief executive of the SFF said “we don’t want Britain to be the weak man of Europe, the jellyfish spined man of Europe over controlling its fishing waters.” Both the NFFO and the SFF said that they were confident that they would get strong political support over Britain taking back control of its waters during the Brexit negotiations. Read more on this story by clicking here. The same organisations also said that the British fishing industry could be £2.7bn better off, with an extra 30,000 jobs created, after Brexit. Under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy EU fishermen caught ten times more fish in UK waters than British fishermen caught in EU waters, with Dr Ian Napier of the Shetlands-based NAFC Marine Centre said that EU vessels caught 173 times more herring, 45 times more whiting, 16 times more mackerel and 14 times more haddock and cod from our waters. Once the UK leaves the EU then the UK will decide on the level of foreign catches within British waters, allowing fish stocks to recover and the British fishing industry to grow. Click here to read more on this.

Conservative Peer Wants Torpedo Boats to Protect Waters After Brexit: In related news a Conservative peer has stated that the UK should have MTBs (motor torpedo boats) or similar vessels “stationed in every single little port within the country” to protect the countries waters and fishing grounds after Brexit. As described above Britain is signed up to the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy and must share its waters with every other EU nation which has a fishing industry. However, after Brexit the UK will have the chance to take back its territorial waters and will be responsible for defending and protecting them. The claim was made by Lord Sterling of Plaistow during a debate in the House of Lords about how best the UK should manage its own waters after Brexit. Increasing the number of patrol boats and inshore vessels is seen as a priority as many EU nations have demanded access to UK waters after Brexit and some have even said they will continue to illegally fish in UK waters. Despite holding an honorary commission of Vice Admiral in the Royal Naval Reserve and having spent most of his career as a senior executive in at the shipping company P&O, Lord Sterling seems somewhat out of date with his knowledge of naval vessels. Motor Torpedo Boats were most widely used by the United Kingdom during World War 2, and the Brave-class was the last to be used by the Royal Navy, going out of commission in 1970. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Call For Clearer Information Over Sustainability Status of Commercial Catches: An article in the Independent looked at which species of fish in UK waters were truly sustainable, pointing out that around 150 different species can be found in the waters of the British Isles, but only five species (cod, haddock, tuna, salmon and prawns) are overwhelmingly eaten by UK consumers. The article stated that eating a wider range of species would take the pressure off the heavily exploited species. The article also pointed out that in many cases environmentally-minded consumers would be better off paying attention to the method which has been used to catch fish, rather than the species they are eating, as many commercial fishing methods are highly destructive to the marine environment. The article also said that the commercial fishing industry needed to go further than simply relying on the Marine Stewardship Council’s vague “MSC Certified” system and instead provide detailed information about when the fish was caught, where and by who. This would allow consumers to make a fully informed choice about the environmental credentials of the fish they eat. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Rare Prehistoric Frilled Shark Caught By Portuguese Trawler: A research trawl off the coast of Portugal, which was ironically aiming to find out more about “minimising unwanted catches in commercial fishing,” has caught an extremely rare frilled shark. The species – which is often referred to as a living fossil as it does not appear to have evolved in millions of years – was caught at a depth of around 700 metres off southernmost coast of Portugal at Portimão. The catch appears to be an extremely small frilled shark but in such a rare species any capture is of interest to the scientific community. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

British Surfer Fights Off Shark By “Punching It On The Nose”: A British doctor was bitten by an unidentified species of shark while surfing off the coast of Australia, but managed to get away after punching the shark on the nose. Charlie Fry, 25, was surfing around forty metres off Avoca Beach in New South Wales when the 2 – 3 metre shark emerged from the water and bit his upper arm. Fry says that he then “just punched it in the face” and managed to get back on his surf board and catch a wave back to shore. He was treated in hospital for deep bite marks on his upper arm. Fry says that he counts himself lucky to be alive as he “genuinely thought” he was going to die, but plans to be back in the water soon. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Giant Crab Species Found to be Active Hunter: The coconut crab, a giant crustacean species which is found across coral atolls in the Pacific and Indian Ocean has been found to be an active hunter, rather than the scavenger it was previously thought to be. Coconut crabs (also known as robber crabs) are the largest species of land-dwelling invertebrate, with a legspan which can exceed a metre and a weight which can be over 4kgs (9lbs). Researcher Mark Laidre was studying the crabs in Changos Islands in the Indian Ocean when he observed a coconut crab climb up to a bird’s nest on the low branch of a tree and break both of the bird’s wings. It then killed the incapacitated bird and was then joined by other coconut crabs which pulled the bird apart, a scene which Laidre described as “pretty gruesome.” The discovery is important as it may explain why low-nesting birds avoid areas where coconut crabs are present and will have implications for the ways in which coconut crabs impact on the wider ecosystems where they are present. Read more and watch the video of the coconut crab feeding on the bird on the Guardian website by clicking here.

Orcas Vs. Great White Sharks – Who Wins?: This month the Guardian looked at the battle between orcas and great white sharks which appears to be taking place off the coast of South Africa, and pointed out that it is usually orcas which come out on top. The article stated that the diet of orcas in usually environment specific, and in South African waters they appear to favour eating the oil and nutrient rich liver of great white sharks, as evidenced by the number of great white shark carcasses washing up on South African beaches with their livers eaten away. While the great white is a fearsome predator it is believed that orcas may be exploiting a natural phenomenon known as tonic immobility to overcome the sharks. This is when sharks are placed upside down in the water and then enter a trance like state where they are unable to move. Many people may be surprised to hear that great white sharks have to worry about becoming prey themselves, but the article says that great whites vacate areas when orcas are present and only return when the orcas have moved on. Click here to read more on this story.

Hipster Website Etsy Criticised for Sale of Endangered Seahorses: Online retailer Etsy, which focuses on selling knick-knacks, trinkets, vintage and handmade items and similar tat has been heavily criticised by the Seahorse Trust for selling products containing preserved seahorses. A range of sellers across the website sell real seahorses which have been dried and preserved and then made into items such as jewellery, fashion accessories and decorations. However, seahorses are protected under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and should therefore not be sold without a special certificate from CITES allowing the sale. Millions of seahorses are caught and dried alive every year, mostly for use in traditional Chinese medicine. However, most western retailers have stopped allowing the trade in this species – eBay, for example, has completely banned their sale on its website. Etsy responded by stating that seahorses did not have the highest level of protection from CITES and therefore they did not monitor the selling of this species on their website. A petition has been launched to try to get Etsy to stop allowing the sale of dried seahorses and currently has 37,000 signatures. Read more on this story here.

Significant Increase in Seabed Litter Around the UK: Data published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has found that there are 358 litter items per square kilometre of seabed around the UK. This is actually a reduction from the 1300 per kilometre found in 2003, but a higher proportion of the litter is plastic. The government had been set to release its 25-year plan into protecting the environment in 2016, but this has been repeatedly delayed. It is believed that a real reduction in plastic production and use – especially single use plastics – needs to be seen before any meaningful improvement in the health and cleanliness of the seas and oceans of both the UK and the wider world will be seen. Click here to read more on this story.

Spanish Trawlers Reportedly Illegally Fish in British Waters Off Gibraltar: The Express published an article this month stating that Spanish trawlers were illegally fishing in British waters off the coast of Gibraltar on a daily basis, and may only be doing this to antagonise British fishermen. According to the 1958 Geneva Convention the three zone around Gibraltar is sovereign British territory and Spanish boats cannot legally fish there. However, ex-pat Spanish newspaper the Olive Press claimed that Spanish trawlers regularly fish within this zone, with one boat entering the zone to fish seven times in October alone. Tensions between Spain and Britain are already strained over Gibraltar, as the Spanish claim they should share sovereignty of the territory with Britain, but the UK has repeatedly rejected this. It is feared that the disputes over fishing could further inflame tensions, or spark a more serious conflict. Read more on this story by clicking here.