October 2019 – News

Consumers told to avoid North Sea cod following loss of MSC status: News has emerged in the last few months that North Sea cod stocks have declined after being classed as sustainable in 2017 – meaning it is now classed as a fish to avoid. The warning over the species will be published in the MCS (Marine Conservation Society) Good Fish Guide which will be published this month. The guide will say that North Sea Cod, along with Atlantic salmon, should be avoided but plaice, herring and hake are better choices due to healthier stocks of these species. The red rating for cod marks an astonishing decline for the species. In summer 2017 cod was given sustainable status by the MSC, with politicians and commercial fishermen’s leaders making much of the news. However, just two years later overfishing and declining cod stocks mean that the species has had MSC sustainable status revoked, and shoppers are now being told to avoid this species. Read more on the Guardian website here.

World’s second largest trawler operates in English Channel: Environmentalists, conservationists and sea anglers all expressed dismay that a huge trawler was operating off the south coast of England this month. The Dutch-owned and Lithuanian-registered FV Margiris is 142 metres long and displaces 9500 tons, making it the second largest trawler in the world (behind only the equally controversial Atlantic Dawn). The Margiris targets pelagic (mid-water) species such as mackerel, herring and blue whiting, and, as it is a factory vessel it is capable of catching and then processing around 250 tons of fish per day. Reports this month stated that the Margiris was only around fourteen miles off the coast of Sussex and had been active in the area for over a week. There are fears over the impact that the Margiris will have on local fish populations and also over the number of non-target species such as dolphins, seals and Bluefin tuna which could end up as bycatch. In 2013 the vessel (then known as the Abel Tasman) was banned from fishing in Australian waters due to the impact it would have on fish stocks – read more on this here. However, as European fishing policy is decided through the Common Fisheries Policy the UK government has no such power to expel the vessel from the area where it is operating. ITV News reported that the vessel had been boarded by UK authorities but everything was found to be in order and there is no suggestion that any infringements of fishing regulations have taken place. However, after the Margiris had returned to the Dutch port of IJmuiden the environmental organisation Greenpeace analysed data of the vessels movements while it was in UK waters. Greenpeace found that the Margiris had fished within the protected marine conservation zone known as Offshore Overfalls off the coast of the Isle of Wight while the vessel was in British waters. As of the end of October there was no knowledge of what, if any, punishment the owners and operators of the Margiris would receive for the infraction. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Thai fisherman finds lump of whale vomit worth £250,000: A Thai fisherman who was said to earn just £10 a day has found a lump of whale vomit which could be worth as much as £250,000. The vomit, known as ambergris, is produced by the digestive system of sperm whales. Despite its somewhat unpleasant source of origin ambergris is highly valued by the cosmetics industry where it is used as an ingredient in high-end fragrances and perfumes. Jumrus Thiachot found the ambergris on Koh Samui beach in southern Thailand earlier this year and had been stored in his shed as he was not sure what to do with it. It has now been confirmed that his discovery contained 80% ambergris. The lump of ambergris will now be auctioned. Click here to read more on this story.

Freedom of Information request shows extent of fish discards: A freedom of information request has shown that fish are still being discarded in the North Sea and off the west coast of Scotland despite regulations now making this illegal. The new regulations now state that juvenile and undersize fish which are inadvertently caught by commercial vessels cannot be discarded overboard and must be taken back to shore and counted towards a vessels overall quota. However, data has shown that over 10,000 tons of unwanted cod, whiting, coalfish and haddock has been caught by prawn and scampi trawlers so far this year. Very little of this has been declared as being landed at port, meaning that it must have been discarded at sea. Phil Taylor, the head of policy for the environmental organisation Open Seas was quoted in the Independent as saying “overwhelming evidence that the shocking practice of fish discarding is continuing illegally in our coastal seas. The problem is clear-cut for scampi trawlers which often use small meshed nets that catch of large volumes of unwanted, young fish, often less than 20cm in length.” Open Seas had gained footage which they say showed juvenile cod and whiting being discarded by scampi trawlers – actions which are in contravention of current discard laws. The Independent also quoted a House of Lords committee report earlier this year which found that there was “little evidence” that the new rules banning discards were being followed and that there had been “little impact” on the number of fish being discarded. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Farmed seafood driving wild fish collapse: Fish which is sold in UK supermarkets as being sustainable could be farmed in a way which is causing the collapse of wild fish stocks in Africa and Asia, according to a story in the Independent this month. The problem is that sustainable fish are fed fishmeal which is made by catching smaller species in unsustainable numbers. Major UK supermarkets including Sainsburys, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland, Morrisons, Waitrose, Co-op, Tesco, Asda, and Marks & Spencer all sell farmed fish which has been fed in this way. The article stated that around 20% of all of the global wild caught fish catch is used to create fishmeal to feed farmed fish. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the celebrity chef who has campaigned against destructive commercial fishing practices, was quoted in the article as saying: “It’s increasingly clear that even products certified as sustainably produced are based on aquaculture that is sourcing fishmeal in deeply irresponsible ways. The bottom line is that we need to stop taking wild fish out of the ocean to feed farmed fish, before it’s too late.” Read the full article by clicking here.

NetTag provides a potential solution to the issue of ghost nets: Ghost nets are lost or abandoned commercial fishing nets which create a huge environmental problem by continuing to trap fish and other forms of marine life long after they have been lost. Ghost nets are a huge issue across the world with an estimated 640,000 tons of fishing gear being lost or discarded every year, and modern nets, being made of nylon and plastic, will take decades to break down. In an effort to tackle this problem researchers from universities in the UK, Spain and Portugal have collaborated with members of the commercial fishing industry on a project called NetTag. This has seen the development of transponders which can be fitted to nets to allow them to be recovered if they are lost. NetTag works by emitting sound waves which can travel long distances underwater allowing fishing vessels which have lost nets to find and retrieve them. The makers say that the €300 matchbox-sized transponders can be used to recover nets which are worth thousands of euros. However, the article goes on to say that despite the new technology many fishermen may simply not bother collecting lost nets. This is because the lost fishing time makes recovering nets uneconomical. This could be overcome by providing some kind of reward system for fishermen who do search for and successful find nets and other forms of fishing gear which they have lost. Read the full article on the BBC website by clicking here.

$22 billion of fishing subsidies causing overfishing: An article in National Geographic this month looked at the important but little-understood issue of fishing subsidies and the impact they have on global fish stocks. Subsidies are sums of money paid out to fishermen to provide financial assistance to allow them to fish. They can take the form of fuel subsidies or money to upgrade boats or engines. National Geographic quoted new research which was published in the academic journal Marine Policy which found that despite the decline of global fish stocks the amount of money paid out in subsidies to the commercial fishing industry was actually going up. In total 152 countries paid over £22 billion to fishermen in 2018 alone, up 6% since 2009. The research went on to say that subsidies hugely contributed to overfishing by allowing fishermen to continue to catch fish when it would otherwise be economically unviable for them to do so, and subsidising fuel to allow vessels to fish across the furthest reaches of the seas. World Trade Organisation member nations are required to reach an agreement on subsidies by the end of 2019, with marine scientists and policy makers stating that it is essential that a legally-binding and far-reaching plan is agreed on to phase subsidies out. However, the fact that seventy WTO nations failed to submit data on the level of subsidies which the WTO requested shows how difficult reaching an agreement will be. Click here to read more on this story.

‘Turf war’ is taking place between fishermen in Scottish waters: The Scotsman newspaper has reported that Scottish crab and lobster fishermen are losing large numbers of creels and hundreds of metres of rope as boats towing mobile fishing gear are deliberately snagging their creels in order to drag them away and dump them. This was being done in order to give the trawlers access to the productive fishing ground used by the crab and lobster fishermen. The article in the Scotsman stated that at least 900 creels and twenty-two miles of rope were being “vandalised and dumped” each year and that the police were now involved and actively investigating the situation. Scottish crab and lobster fishermen said that the issue was getting worse and that Marine Scotland had been ineffective in finding a resolution. They also pointed out that huge amounts of plastic pollution would be caused by the lost fishing gear. Click here to read more on this story.

Beleagured Ocean Cleanup Project collects first plastic: After numerous delays and setbacks the Ocean Cleanup Project has finally collected its first plastic from the Pacific Ocean. Devised by Dutchman Boyan Slat when he was 16-years-old Ocean Cleanup was originally going to manufacture vast booms which collected plastic as they travelled through the sea. Despite being heavily hyped in the media and backed with over $30 million (£25 million) of funding the project has struggled to produce a boom which fulfils its intended purpose and has been beset with delays and required numerous redesigns. The size of the booms has been reduced from 100km to hundreds of metres, and tests revealed that the booms moved through the sea too slowly to retain the plastic they caught, and even broke up entirely in bad weather. However, there has been better news for the Ocean Cleanup Project this month with news that a 600 metre boom has successfully collected its first plastic from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In a press conference Slat stated that the plastic gathered would eventually be brought back to shore by a support vessel for recycling. Read more on this story by clicking here.