November 2018 – News

Fisherman angry after having to discard two tonnes of bass: A Plymouth fisherman has expressed his anger after he was barred from retaining two tons of bass worth an estimated £20,000 and instead had to throw it back into the sea. Joel Dunn was trawling for squid and cuttlefish off the south west coast when he brought up the bass in his nets. Strict EU quota rules mean that commercial fishing vessels can only retain a tiny amount of bass which are inadvertently caught, meaning Mr Dunn had to throw the bass back into the sea dead. The incident highlights the issues with setting quotas for fish in the mixed fisheries around the UK, and many people will find it difficult to understand how anyone gains from throwing valuable, edible fish back into the sea dead. Read more and see a video of the incident here.

Anglers warned after seal attack: An angler had to be rescued from a cliff face after an encounter with “aggressive” seals. The man was fishing near Eyemouth in south-east Scotland when a colony of around fifty seals and their pups became agitated and forced him to scramble up a nearby cliff face where he became trapped. Coastguard teams were called out and the man, who was uninjured but suffering from exposure to the cold weather, was eventually rescued by boat. A coastguard officer from the area warned members of the public to move away from seals if they began to show signs of aggression, and phone 999 and ask for the coastguard if help is required. Read more here.

Angler catches (and releases) 300lb skate: News has emerged this month that a 300lb skate with a 7ft wingspan was caught off the coast of Northern Ireland in June of this year. The catch was made by angler Hamish Currie who took over and hour to reel the skate in. The catch was made on a boat fishing out of Portrush and the skate was returned to the sea after being photographed and measured. Click here to see photos of the skate and read more on this story.

Brexit and sea fishing news: November has been a hugely significant month for Brexit, with a number of major developments made. However, it remains to seen how fishing will fare in the new political landscape following the events of this month.

  • The month began with the news that the EU and UK had reached a Brexit withdrawal deal which was duly approved by EU nations at a special summit on 25th November. This deal sets out the amount of money the UK must pay to leave the EU, rights for EU and UK citizens and puts forward ways to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. A separate non-binding political declaration points to the future of the relationship between the UK and EU. However, the withdrawal deal needs to be approved by parliament and many are speculating that Theresa May has little chance of parliament voting in favour of the withdrawal deal, as the number of compromises the deal has contained within it have led to both remainers and Brexiteers denouncing it. In terms of fishing there has been intense speculation as essentially nothing has been decided – there is only the agreement that the current situation with the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy remaining in place until the last day of 2020. What happens after this will be decided in trade talks which will happen at a future date, with initial plans for a fishing deal to be agreed by July 2020. The government has repeatedly stated that leaving the EU means taking back control of Britain’s waters, and prominent Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage have stated that fishing will be the “acid test” of whether or not Brexit has been properly implemented. However, with the government in a weak position over Brexit and claims that leaving the EU with no deal would plunge the UK into recession there are serious fears within the UK fishing industry that the rights to fish in UK waters will be traded away for a favourable deal on other areas of the economy.
  • An article on the BBC website summarised the situation, stating that the Brexit deal proposed by Theresa May had no commitment to reaching a fishing deal between the EU and a post-Brexit UK, only stating that both sides would “use their best endeavours” to try to reach such a deal”. The article also states that fishing, despite its relatively low value to the British economy, is likely to remain high up the political agenda due to its history, importance to coastal communities and prominence in the Brexit debate.
  • Another BBC article quoted Theresa May in specifically saying that she would not “sell out” fishermen and the UK would become an “independent coastal nation” after Brexit. However, Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon said that fishing would be used as a “bargaining chip” in the future. The issue of post-Brexit fishing is particularly pertinent in Scotland as the majority of the UK’s fishing fleet is based there. This means that the influence of the Conservative Party’s thirteen Scottish MPs is amplified and they have placed considerable pressure on May to fulfil her promises over fishing.
  • Despite this fishermen, already angry that they will not be free of EU rules and quotas in March 2019 (when the UK leaves the EU) and will instead have to follow such rules until the end of the transitional period in December 2020, have already called the proposed deal a betrayal. An article in the Guardian surveyed the views of fishermen who were angry that there was no guarantees of the UK taking back control of its own waters in the deal May had agreed. A fisherman from Whitby said they had been “done over by the exit deal” and a Scottish fisherman said that the government would “[never be] forgiven by the fishing community if they go back on the promises made in the past few months.” Scottish Conservative MP Scott Thompson said that the deal was “unacceptable” as the right to fish in UK waters would be “sacrificed for a trade deal” but Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, gave the deal his qualified support on the basis that the negotiations had yet to happen.
  • The response to the deal from European nations was noted by a number of UK media outlets. The Sun reported that France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Germany were leading the charge to insist that the UK would only get tariff-free access to EU markets if their fishermen have reciprocal access to UK waters.
  • The Guardian reported that the French president Emmanuel Macron took the most hardline view of European leaders, stating that the UK would be forced to remain in the Customs Union unless it gave French fishing vessels full access to British waters. Under the terms of May’s deal the UK will stay in the Customs Union beyond the transition period if a wider EU/UK trade deal is not ready to come into force. However, Macron appears to be saying that France will veto any deal and force the UK to stay in the Customs Union (with no say over how it operates) unless French vessels can fish in UK waters.
  • Another BBC article looked at the way the Dutch fishing industry viewed Brexit. In the article a representative of the Dutch fishing industry stated that many Dutch fishermen own a lot of UK fishing quota and fish under a British flag (a hugely controversial issue in itself). After Brexit they could be barred from fishing in UK waters, with fears that the Dutch fishing industry would then loose around half its vessels. While fishing in the Netherlands only accounts for around one per cent of the nation’s GDP it is concentrated in a small number of coastal communities who are highly reliant on fishing and fish processing. Such communities are highly reliant on the access to British waters which EU membership offers them, explaining why they are so fearful of Brexit. However, the article goes on to consider how the UK exports much of its own catch to the EU, meaning post Brexit tariffs could seriously affect the industry, and much of the fish favoured by UK consumers is imported from EU countries.

Australian fisherman abused online after catching shark in state-ran net scheme: An Australian fisherman has been abused by online activists and campaigners after he hauled a 4.6 metre (15ft) great white shark which had been caught (and died) in a state-ran shark net scheme. The shark was caught in the net off Maroubra Beach, New South Wales, and the fisherman, who goes by the online name Trapman Bermagui, posted pictures of the dead shark online. Many conservationists, campaigners and members of the public reacted with anger, believing that the shark had been killed unnecessarily, with one saying that he “needs a bullet.” However, others stated that the nets were part of a government ran project to protect busy beaches from sharks and the man was simply doing his job. Click here to read more on this story.

Tyres and clothes a major source of microplastics in UK seas: While plastic straws, bottles and other forms of single use plastic gain high levels of media attention, an article in the Guardian has claimed that less well known sources of plastic pollution are also major contributors of microplastic pollution. The article claims that tyre abrasion (the tiny pieces of rubber which come away from tyres during driving) adds somewhere between 9,000 and 17,000 tons of microplastic to British waters every year. Synthetic fibres which are released from items of clothing such as fleeces during washing also add around 3,000 tons. Two other main causes are plastic pellets known as nurdles which are used in the manufacture of plastic items and paint which flakes away from buildings and road markings. Both of these generate thousands more tons of microplastics every year. Campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth have warned that these forms of plastic pollution are receiving too little attention, as the focus is almost entirely on single use plastics. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Fish farmed in concrete tanks suffer ‘abject misery’: Environmentalists have claimed that fish raised in concrete tanks on land-based fish farms are suffering from “abject misery” where they “suffer immensely” and are slaughtered in the “most gruesome of ways.” Fish farming has been one of the fastest growing areas of agriculture in recent years, with the ever-growing human demand for seafood fueling its rise. While open-water fish farms have grown in number there has been a corresponding rise in land-based farms. The lobby group Compassion in World Farming have claimed that this type of farming leads to unacceptable suffering for fish, and regulations should be brought in to outlaw such fish farms. They also claim that fish in such fish farms suffer from extremely high levels of parasite infestations and need to be treated with antibiotics and chemicals to rid them of pests and disease. Read more by clicking here.

Mako, the world’s fastest shark species, is ‘speeding towards extinction: An article in this month’s Guardian said that the mako shark was “speeding towards extinction” with the EU being “most to blame.” Landings of the shark in the first six months of 2018 have been fifty per cent higher than scientific advice recommends, putting further pressure on an already endangered and overfished species. EU vessels, mostly from Spain and Portugal caught almost two thirds of Atlantic mako sharks, with most of the meat sent to Italy and the fins exported to Asia. There are, however, no international fishing quotas for this species. The precarious status of the mako shark was underlined by a 2017 report which said that even if catches of this species were cut to zero it would only have a fifty-fifty chance of survival due to its slow growing and later maturing nature, and any revival of numbers would take at least two decades. Click here to read more.

Australian teenager critically ill after shark attack: A teenager who was spearfishing off the coast of northern Australia was left in a critical condition after being “mobbed” by “more than ten” sharks. Sean Whitcombe was attacked by the sharks after he speared a mackerel. Friends reported seeing a pool of blood sixty metres from his boat and immediately pulled him back on board and contacted the emergency services. However, it took around two hours for help to arrive due to a mix up over co-ordinates. He was eventually taken to a local hospital and then airlifted to the Royal Darwin Hospital where his condition has reportedly stabilised and he is said to be in “good spirits.” Read more here.

Dead fish to power cruise liners: A Norwegian cruise liner company has said that it will use dead fish to create biogas which will then be used to power its ships. Hurtigruten runs a fleet of of seventeen ships and plans to have at least six of them converted by 2021. The waste products from fish processed as food will be used to generate biogas and then liquefied and used to power the ships. The company has also pledged to ban single use plastics on board its ships. Click here to read more on this story.

Dead sperm whale contained 6kg of plastic: A sperm whale which washed up on the coast of Indonesia had ingested 6kg (13lb) of plastic. The 9.5 metre (31ft) carcass was washed up on the shore of Kapota Island and a post-mortem revealed that the whale’s stomach contained over one hundred drinking cups, four plastic bottles, twenty-five plastic bags and two flip flops. Due to the advanced state of decay of the whale it was not possible to establish if the plastic had directly caused the animals death. Read more here.

Surge in protected marine areas: A significant increase in the number of protected marine areas around the world means that the internationally agreed target to protect 10% of the world’s oceans is within reach. Currently 7% of the world’s seas and oceans are protected, helped by a huge 1.2 million square mile no fishing zone in the Ross Sea which is overseen by the US and New Zealand. There are plans for an additional nine million square miles of ocean to be protected within the next two years (along with 2.7 million square miles of land) which will mean that the target will have been reached. While there is a scheme to create Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) around the coastline of the UK there has been criticism that commercial fishing and other damaging activities may be allowed to continue within some of them. Read more by clicking here.

New documentary will expose the extent of illegal shark fishing: A new documentary will highlight the extent to which sharks are hunted by humans, and will also reveal that there is widespread mislabelling of shark species, disguising the number of sharks which are caught each year. Sharkwater: Extinction was made by Canadian film maker Rob Stewart, who tragically died last year in a diving accident. The film will look at the treats shark populations face which range from huge levels of shark bycatch from commercial fishing, being targeted by sport fishermen and the issue of shark finning. The film had its UK premier at the Totnes Film Festival on November 17th. Read more on this story here.

Oceans soaking up more heat that previously realised: New research emerged this month which showed that the world’s seas and oceans have absorbed 60% more heat than it was previously thought over the past twenty-five years. This is likely to mean that the world is more sensitive to fossil fuel emissions and that it will be harder to keep climate change within safe limits. Researchers from the IPCC (intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) made the discovery and published the findings in the journal Nature. They warned that it would now be more difficult to meet the Paris agreement and keep global warming within 1.5C of pre-industrial levels. It also means that sea levels will rise further and faster (due to melting polar ice and the fact that warmer water expands more than cooler water), and the fact that warmer water holds less oxygen could have dramatic impacts on marine ecosystems. Read more here.

Fish fingers rated as sustainable seafood: The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has rated fish fingers as one of the most sustainable types of seafood, with some of the cheapest products being the best for sustainability. While the MCS said that it was difficult for shoppers to tell the species of fish contained in many brands due to poor labelling the main species used were Atlantic cod, Pacific cod, Alaskan pollock and haddock, and many brands sold by major retailers such as Morrisons, Tescos and Asda were relatively sustainable when compared to other types of fish and seafood. Read more by clicking here.

Move to create huge arctic reserve thrown into doubt: Plans to create an arctic reserve of around 1.8 million square miles have been put on hold after Norway, China and Russia vetoed the proposals at a meeting in Hobart, Australia. The reserve would have been made in an area of the Weddell Sea and were backed by a petition signed by two million people. It was hoped that the reserve would have protected whale, penguin and seal populations, helped restore fish stocks and also soaked up carbon emissions. The proposals needed the unanimous support of the twenty-five members of the international group who put it forward, but Russia and China blocked the plans, while Norway put forward its own plans to split the area into two. Sir Alan Duncan, the UK’s Foreign Office minister who was at the talks in Australia said that eh UK would press ahead and try to gain international support for arctic marine reserves. Read more here.

Stricter rules could force Scottish salmon farms to close: Tough new rules being proposed by Sepa (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) could lead to the closure of some of Scotland’s salmon farms. The Scottish salmon farming industry is worth over £1 billion and has rapidly expanded in recent years. However, the rapid growth has led to serious problems such as parasitic sea lice infestations and diseases leading to extremely high mortality rates, escapes salmon spreading diseases into wild fish stocks and harsh chemical and antibiotic treatments of salmon leading to safety concerns. Furthermore the industry has come under heavy criticism for shooting seals which feed on the farmed salmon and catching huge number of wild wrasse to use in Scottish fish farms as a cleaner fish which picks parasites off farmed salmon. A recent report by the Scottish government said that the marine ecosystem of Scotland faced “irrecoverable damage” if fish farming continued in its current form. The BBC reported this month that some farms which are in shallow water may be forced to close and relocate to deeper, faster flowing water where their environmental impact is lower and other changes may be needed after a consultation period has been completed. Click here to read the full BBC article on this story.

Huge shark nursery found in Irish waters: A huge deep-water shark nursery has been found 200 miles to the west of Ireland. The area was discovered by researchers from Ireland’s Marine Institute who were using a deep sea submersible vehicle at depths of around 750 metres. Large numbers of the deep-water species black mouth dogfish were found in the area along with the ‘mermaid’s purse’ egg cases which were attached to coral skeletons. Read more by clicking here.

US crab fishermen to sue oil firms over global warming: A Californian fishermen’s association is going to sue oil and fossil fuel companies over the effect that climate change has had on crab populations. The fishermen say that warming seas have led to toxic crabs and shorter fishing seasons, meaning that they can no longer make a living from fishing for crab. The lawsuit is being filed by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and aims to make thirty companies – including ExxonMobil, Chevron and BP pay for the damage which global warming has had on the marine environment. It is the first case of a private industry group attempting to make the fossil fuel industry responsible for the environmental damage caused by global warming. “We’re taking a stand for the captains and crew, their families and the business owners that support the fleet,” Noah Oppenheim, the association’s executive director of Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations said: “We’re taking a stand for the captains and crew, their families and the business owners that support the fleet … the fossil fuel companies named in our lawsuit knowingly caused harm, and they need to be held accountable.” Click here to read more on this story.

Australian man killed by stingray: A man has been killed off the coast of Tasmania after being wounded by a marine animal believed to be a stingray. The incident happened at Lauderdale Beach and the Tasmanian police were keen to point out that it was an isolated incident and not shark related. Tensions have been running high after a number of shark-related deaths off the coast of Australia this month. Stingrays are not considered to be dangerous and generally only strike out at humans in self-defence. However, the world-famous wildlife presenter Steve Irwin was killed by a stingray in 2006 when diving off the coast of Queensland in 2006. Read more by clicking here.