October 2018 – News

Electric pulse trawling taking place in ‘protected’ areas of European waters: A controversial method of commercial fishing which uses electricity to shock fish out of the seabed and into the nets of trawlers is taking place in the Dogger Bank, a protected area of the North Sea. The Dogger Bank, which crosses British, German and Dutch territorial waters, is designated a Special Area of Conservation under the EU’s Habitats Directive because of high level of marine life it contains. Despite this pulse trawlers are being allowed to operate in the area, leading to the UK’s Blue Marin Foundation and the French ocean conservation charity BLOOM – who believe that pulse trawling on the Dogger Bank is illegal – to file a formal complaint to the European Commission. The EU officially bans any form of commercial fishing which uses electricity. However, the Dutch pulse trawlers have exploited a loophole which allows them to operate on a research and experimental basis. Despite this the number of Dutch pulse trawlers which have been converted to fish with electricity has quietly been allowed to expand and is now though to number almost one hundred. Proponents of the method claim that it is less damaging than traditional beam trawling, but conservationists point out that there has been no research carried out into the long term effects of pulse trawling, and the much lower fuel consumption is the reason that the commercial fishing industry is so keen to adopt it. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Fisheries Bill launched to allow UK to take back fishing grounds after Brexit: Legislation to allow the UK to operate as an independent coastal nation was introduced to parliament this month. The Fisheries Bill will allow the UK government to decide who fishes in British waters and on what terms once the country has left the European Union. The bill will end the current automatic right of EU fishing vessels to fish in the UK’s territorial waters and allow the UK to set its own quotas and days at sea for its fishing fleet. Regaining control of UK fishing grounds is seen as one of the biggest benefits of Brexit, and prominent Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage have referred to regaining control of the UK’s fisheries as the “acid test” of Brexit. However, the fishing industries of EU nations are set to fight to continue to be able to fish in British waters, and the fear remains that the UK government will trade away the right to take back control of the UK’s waters in return for concessions on trade deals. Read more on this by clicking here.

Fears over youngsters failing to take interest in angling: An article in the Telegraph has warned that angling may be at risk of “dying out” as young people are failing to take up the sport. The article was based around a warning from Mark Lloyd, the chief executive of the Angling Trust, who said: “There has been a significant decline in the numbers of people taking up the sport in recent years … We need to recognise that angling will wither away unless we get more people fishing.” Lloyd stated that parents’ fears about children playing unsupervised and young people spending more time on computer screens were causes of the declining interest in angling. Lloyd also pointed out that angling was a significant part of the economy, with freshwater angling generating £1.5 billion a year and supporting 27,000 jobs, while sea angling added another £1 billion and supported at least 10,000 jobs. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Military sonar could be to blame for whale deaths: An investigation has been launched to try to work out why seventy-five whales, mostly Curvier’s beaked whales, beached and died on Scottish and Irish beaches in August and September. Most of the whales were found across beaches in northern Scotland, with others found on the coastline of North Ireland and the west coast of the Republic of Ireland. Natural causes such as disease have been ruled out, and scientists now believe that the powerful sonar used by military vessels may have been the cause of the whale’s deaths. It is believe that the sonar may panic whales, forcing them to surface too quickly and suffer decompression sickness – also known as the bends – in the same way humans do. The Royal Navy has said that it takes its responsibilities to avoid harming whales “very seriously” and always tried to check if whales were present in an area before using sonar. Read more on this story by clicking here.

New agreement sees much of Arctic closed to fishing: An international agreement was signed in Greenland this month which will see an international fishing ban across much of the Arctic. The Arctic is seen as one of the world’s final genuine wilderness which has been untouched by humans. However, climate change has cause ice to melt and means that previously inaccessible parts of the Arctic can now be reached by fishing vessels, and some nations have already sent cargo vessels through Arctic waters which were previously impassable. The agreement will see an area of the Arctic which is approximately the size of the Mediterranean Sea protected from fishing for sixteen years, with the agreement then extended in five year increments. Nine nations (US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Japan, South Korea and China) plus the EU have signed up to the proposals. Read more by clicking here.

Plastics news: The issue of plastic pollution in the world’s seas and oceans continues to get a great deal of attention in the media, with the following stories appearing this month:

  • Balloon release poses risk to wildlife for “decades to come”: A balloon release in Northern Ireland will threaten marine wildlife for decades and have a “horrendous” impact on the marine environment according to a conservation charity. A charity which commemorates infant deaths released hundreds of balloons from a building owned by Belfast City Council, despite the council having a ‘voluntary ban’ on balloon releases. The Manx Wildlife Trust (MWT) said that there were “other ways to remember lost ones” and that it was now “environmentally unacceptable” to conduct balloon releases. Belfast City Council said that it was reviewing its policy on balloon releases. Click here to read more on this story.
  • Deep sea creatures may have been feeding on plastic for decades: New research has found that some deep-sea creatures may have been feeding on plastic for at least forty years. Scientists examined archived specimens of starfish and brittle star species which live at depths of around 2000 metres in the Rockall Trough to the west of Ireland. They discovered eight types of plastic, mostly polymer and nylon, in the stomachs of the creatures which were collected between the mid-1970s and 2015. The research shows that despite its currently high media profile plastic pollution of the seas and oceans has been an issue for many decades, and plastic has been a threat to the marine environment since it first started being manufactured in the 1950s. Read more on this story by clicking here.
  • More companies pledge to end plastic waste by 2025: Around 250 companies have now pledged that all of the plastic waste they produce will be reused, recycled or be able to be composted by the year 2025. The campaign which the companies have signed up to was started by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2010 and Coca Cola, Loreal, Burburry, Unilever, Mars and H &M are amongst the companies which are now signed up. Read more here.
  • Plastic bottle washes up on UK beach looking almost new: The enduring nature of plastic waste in the sea has again been underlined, this time by a washing up bottle. The bottle was found by a coastguard warden on a beach in Somerset and still has colouring and lettering clearly visible, with the Guardian newspaper stating that it looked “almost new.” Although it is not possible to come up with the exact date the bottle was manufactured text on the bottle states “4d off.” This means that the bottle pre-dates decimal currency being used in Britain, making it at least forty-seven years old. Read more and see pictures of the bottle by clicking here.
  • Study shows humans are consuming plastic: A new research study has confirmed for the first time that humans are ingesting plastic through the food that they eat. Stool samples were taken by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna and every respondent was found to have plastic inside of their bodies. The risks posed by humans ingesting plastics are mostly unknown but bacterial infections, irritation of the gut lining, issues with the auto-immune system and the introduction of harmful chemicals to the body are all believed to be possible effects. Click here to read more on this story.
  • Plastic straws, cotton buds and drinks stirrers could be banned within a year: Single use plastics are set to be banned within England by October 2020, with the possibility of the legislation being in place much earlier than that. The devolved governments of the UK are also set to ban single use plastics on a similar timescale. Environment Secretary Michael Gove stated that the ban would “turn the tide on plastic pollution” and items such as plastic straws, cotton buds, drinks stirrers and similar single-use plastic items would be banned. However, people who need plastic straws due to medical conditions or accessibility issues would not be affected by the ban. Click here to read more on this story.

UK consumers told to eat more pollock: A leading marine conservation organisation has said that UK shoppers should buy more pollock to take the pressure off species such as cod and haddock which are being overfished. The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) made the call this month and also said the lack of clear labelling and information on sustainability meant that consumers should ask retailers if the fish they were buying was sustainable. The charity made a similar call in March, saying the fish stocks overall would benefit if people in the UK chose species which were currently unfashionable and overlooked such as dab, hake and herring. Read more on this story here.

Japan’s world famous Tsukiji fish market closes its doors: The world’s largest fish market has finally closed its doors after eighty-three years of trading. Built in the 1930s following a large earthquake the Tsukiji fish market became in Tokyo famous across the world and was a massive tourist draw in itself, despite operating as a busy commercial fish market until its final day. The markets most famous features were the pre-dawn fish auctions and the annual auction of the first tuna of the year. This tuna could command huge prices due to the cultural significance, publicity and prestige associated with purchasing the first tuna of the year. The first tuna of 2018 sold for just under £500,000, but in 2013 the record was set when the auction raised £1.29 million for a single bluefin tuna. Tsukiji is being closed as it is seen as outdated and overcrowded and the space it occupies is needed for the next Olympic Games in 2020. However, some of the vendors and staff opposed its closing until the very end, and there were even street protests to try to keep the market open. A new purpose built facility in the Toyosu area of Tokyo will replace it. Read more by clicking here.

Subsidised Chinese overfishing threatens the seas: An article on the Asia Sentinel website has described how overfishing by Chinese fishing fleets is putting fish stocks across Asia, and indeed the world, under threat. China catches more fish than the next five highest fish-taking nations combined, with generous state subsidies allowing Chinese fishing vessels to operate in distant waters at a vast loss. The article states that the Chinese fleets target “anything that swims” and their global reach means that they are overfishing waters off the coast of Africa and South America, as well as across Asia. The author states that the Chinese often use leased islands and rented ports to give them a right to fish in African waters, and in other cases they may fish illegally protected by a coast guard escort. While the Chinese government has claimed that it wants to reform its fishing industry the author of the article appears pessimistic that anything will change in the near future, and a lot more harm will be done to fish stocks across the world before any meaningful change happens. Click here to read the full article.

Angler’s catch and release fishing may stop some species from feeding properly: New research has revealed that fish which have been caught and released by anglers may be unable to feed properly due to the damage caused by fishing hooks. The finding may have far-reaching consequences for anglers who practice catch-and-release fishing and also for the entire sport of angling, which is coming under increasing pressure from conservationists and environmental campaigners who see it as cruel and unnecessary. The research was carried out by a team of scientists based at the University of California and led by Professor Tim Higham. Twenty shiner perch were caught (ten with nets and ten with barbless hooks) and then taken to a research centre in Canada. The fish were placed in tanks and observed. All seemed equally keen to feed but those which had been caught with nets were much more effective at feeding than those which had been caught with hooks. Professor Higham found that catching the fish with a hook badly affected the fish’s ability to suction feed. This was because suction feeding relies on creating negative pressure within the mouth of the fish and this was much harder to do if the mouth had been pierced with a hook. The scientists who carried out the study likened it to a person trying to drink through a straw which had a hole in the side. Although not all species of fish suction feed the news will be concerning to anglers who believe that they are having a minimal impact on fish stocks and the wider marine environment by fishing on a catch-and-release basis, and will also add further weight to the arguments of those who are against angling. Click here to read more on this story.

Mediterranean fish poachers made to pay ‘environmental damages’: A “mafia-style group of men have been convicted of poaching fish in an protected area of the Mediterranean, and are also being made to pay ‘environmental damages’ for the harm they have done to the marine environment. The group of four men targeted fish within Calanques national park, and area of sea off the coast of Marseilles which had been protected in response to the overfishing crisis in the Mediterranean. The men, at least two of which were champion free divers who could hold their breath for long enough to reach depths of forty metres, went to the area by boat. Once there they would use a range of methods including spear guns to catch species such as groupers and octopus, many of which were endangered species. The catch was hidden in secret underwater compartments in their boats and much of it was sold on to high-end restaurants. It was estimated that the men caught around 4.5 tons of fish and other marine life and made around £140,000 of personal profit between 2015 and 2017. In their defence – which was rejected by the court – the men claimed that they were only making a little extra money as they all also held down day jobs, and were mostly catching the fish for enjoyment. The men were given suspended prison sentences of up to a year and a half and were banned from the Calanques national park. However, in a landmark case a ruling will be made later this year where the amount the men must pay in environmental damages will be decided. The amount is expected to be around £400,000 and will set a new precedent as it will mean that those committing environmental crimes will be liable for the cost of the environmental damage they have caused, not just the monetary value of what they have taken. However, campaigners and environmentalists were dismayed that the restaurants to which the men had sold the fish were not named in court or punished as they had agreed to attend classes to raise the awareness of where the fish they bought came from and pay fines. Read more by clicking here.

Climate change and overfishing ‘are as big a threat to the oceans as plastic pollution’: An article in the Guardian by two university researchers argued that overfishing and climate change are as big a threat to the oceans as plastic pollution, but receive much less attention. Rick Stafford, a professor at Bournemouth University and Peter J. S. Jones of University College London state that programmes such as Blue Planet II and images in the media of “charismatic animals” such as whales and turtles entangled in plastic have been extremely successful in pushing the issue into the public domain. However, they say that climate change and the loss of biodiversity (mostly due to overfishing) are bigger threats. The two academics ask why these two issues have not been given as much attention and conclude that it is because plastic pollution provides a “convenient truth” where companies and individuals can be seen to be taking action against it, whereas climate change and overfishing are much more difficult problems to deal with. They argue that only “token gestures” have been made so far and that too little is being done to address the “scale and urgency of the environmental threat” and that time is running out to act. Read the full article here.

Article in The Guardian asking if fish feel pain: A long read article in the Guardian this month examined the extent to which fish can feel pain. The article states that the belief that fish are “insensate and short of memory” and can therefore can “be caught, killed and eaten without guilt” is being revised. This is because previously it was widely believed that fish, lacking a part of the brain called the neocortex, could not feel pain in the same way mammals could. However, scientists who are proponents of this view are being challenged. Research has shown that fish injected with bee venom breathe faster and rub the site of the injection on gravel – actions associated with feeling pain. Furthermore, the belief that fish are unintelligent and have little to no memory has no basis in research. Studies of fish have shown that some species are intelligent, such as wrasse which use rocks to smash open shellfish and archerfish which squirt water at insects to knock them off branches and into the water. The issues raised in this article may have far-reaching implications for anglers, commercial fishermen and the owners and operators of fish farms in the future. Click here to read the full article on the Guardian website.

Could big game fishing for tuna return to UK waters?: With bluefin tuna making a return to UK waters an article on the BBC website asked in big game fishing for this species could also return to the UK. This type of fishing took place in the North Sea in the 1920s and 1930s from North Yorkshire ports such as Whitby and Scarborough, and it was during this time that the UK’s biggest ever rod and line caught fish, a bluefin tuna of 851lb, was captured. However, by the mid-1950s tuna had all but disappeared from British waters, probably because the herring they hunted had been overfished. Now there is clear evidence that bluefin tuna are returning to the UK, and the BBC article asks if a catch-and-release big game fishery could be restarted in the North Sea. A major issue, however, is that it is currently illegal for UK fishermen to target bluefin tuna due to their endangered status, although eight EU nations do have quota to catch this species. This has not stopped the Angling Trust from pushing for a recreational tuna fishery off the coast of Cornwall, with the organisation pointing to research from Canada which has found that a catch-and-release fishery would generate six times more revenue than a commercial fishery which caught and killed the tuna. The Angling Trust also point to the fact that Brexit could provide the opportunity to establish such a fishery as it is EU rules which stop British fishermen from targeting tuna. Read more on this story by clicking here.

French Navy will use sea birds fitted with transmitters to detect illegal fishing: The French Navy have found a new way of detecting illegal fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean – albatrosses fitted with transponders. Around 250 of the giant sea birds have been fitted with the electronic devices which detect the location of trawlers and send the information to French Navy fishery protection vessels. While some vessels can switch off their main radar signals when fishing illegally they must leave on low-level radar signals to navigate safety and it is these signals which the transponders carried by the albatrosses can pick up. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Deep sea ‘headless chicken monster’ caught on film: Footage taken in the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica showing a so-called ‘headless chicken monster’ has went viral this month. The creature, which has the scientific name Enypniastes eximia and is actually a species of sea cucumber was captured by the Australian Antarctic Division and came as a surprise as the creature was previously only thought to live in and around the Gulf of Mexico. Click here to read more and see pictures of the creature.