October 2020 – News

Heavy fines for men found catching undersized fish: Two men have been fined after they pleaded guilty to seven different fisheries related charges at Southampton Magistrates Court. The men were caught in October 2019 with undersized fish onboard their vessel and were linked to a 750-metre long net which had been set at the mouth of the River Itchen in Southampton Water which is a bass nursey area. When the net was hauled in by fisheries officers it contained over £1,300 of fish with officers able to return some bass, mullet, plaice, flounder and smooth-hounds alive. The men were made to pay fines and costs of £4,800 and their net which was valued at £1,900 was confiscated from them. Read more by clicking here.

More than 100 skate eggs found off Scottish coast: A batch of eggs from the critically endangered flapper skate off the coastline of western Scotland. The discovery was made by divers at an undisclosed location. While it is welcome news that an endangered species has been reproducing the divers warned that the eggs – which can take up to eighteen months to hatch – could easily be destroyed by trawlers or dredgers operating in the area. Skate were once common across the British Isles but overfishing and habitat destruction have seen them decline in number to the level where they are now only found in a few locations around the British Isles and are classed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The Scottish government said that it was taking advice on how to protect the site where the eggs were discovered. Click here to read more on this story.

‘Albino’ tope caught off Isle of Wight: An ultra-rare all-white tope has been caught in UK waters for the first time. Jason Gillespie was fishing from a boat off the coast of the Isle of Wight when he caught the tope. It appeared to have a condition called leucism which destroys the pigments in the skin giving it an entirely white appearance. Gillespie described the catch as “the fish of a lifetime, one in a million” and added, “we released her as quickly as possible, she was only on the boat for less than a minute.” Read more and see pictures of the tope by clicking here.

Ban on many forms of plastic comes into force: A ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds came into force in England on the 1st October. Supplying these items to the general public will be prohibited, but exceptions will be allowed for people who need such items due to disabilities or medical conditions. Around 4.7 billion straws are used in England each year with a large proportion ending up in the seas around the UK it is believed that the marine environment will benefit from the policy. However, environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth and Client Earth called for the government to go further and ban plastic packaging and introduce a deposit scheme for plastic bottles. A number of businesses, such as pub chain Wetherspoons, had already phased out plastic straws and replaced them with ones made out of paper before the ban came into place. Read more on this story on the BBC News website by clicking here.

More than 14 million tons of plastic believed to be on the ocean floor: New research has revealed that around 14 million tons of plastic pieces less than 5mm in diameter may be on the ocean floor. The findings come from a study carried out by Australia’s government science agency CSIRO who took samples from six sites in remote areas several hundred miles off the country’s southern coast. The research suggests that the amount of plastic on the seabed could be thirty times more than that found on the surface. Dr Denise Hardesty, a co-author of the research said: “We need to make sure the big blue is not a big trash pit. This is more evidence that we need to stop this at the source.” Read the full article on this news here.

Marine Conservation Society updates Good Fish Guide: The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has released a new version of their Good Fish Guide which advises consumers on which seafood is the most sustainable and which should be avoided. North Sea cod have been added to the fish to avoid list after stocks dropped dramatically in recent years, while herring and Dover sole have been moved from green to amber on the MCS’s traffic light system after recent data showed their numbers had also declined. Bass from the Bay of Biscay and Iberian waters were also added to the red list of fish to avoid after it became clear that the static nets used to catch this species led to dolphin and porpoise bycatch. Wild Atlantic salmon were another species which stays on the red list due to depleted numbers and other threats such as barriers to the species migration up rivers. Farmed Scottish scallops were named as a best choice, as were European hake, haddock and North Sea plaice. Alaskan Pollock, a species commonly used in fish fingers and other processed fish products also remain on the green list. Read more on this story on the Guardian website here.

Escaped Scottish salmon found in English rivers: Last month we reported that around 50,000 salmon escaped from an Argyll fish farm after Storm Ellen damaged nets holding the fish. Escape farmed salmon can have a major impact on wild stocks as they can interbreed with wild fish and permanently change the genetic makeup of natural fish populations. Following the escape anglers in Scotland reported catching the escaped farmed fish which can be distinguished from wild fish by their damaged fins. However, six salmon which are believed to be escapees from the farm have now been caught in Cumbria, showing that the escape may have a much wider impact than previously believed. The Environment Agency have asked any anglers who believe they have caught one of the escaped salmon to humanely kill the fish and take a sample of scales for analysis. Scientists have also warned that the full extent of the environmental damage caused by the escape will not be known for some time. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Almost all of UK marine protected areas subject to bottom trawling: British marine protected areas have been described as being “fake” and “paper parks” by a world-leading marine biologist after it was revealed that 97% of them are still subjected to destructive bottom trawling. The findings came from Global Fishing Watch which used vessel tracking data to show that dredging and bottom trawling (the two most destructive types of commercial fishing) were happening in seventy-one of the seventy-three marine protected areas around the UK. This amounted to around 200,000 hours of trawling in the UKs marine protected areas in 2019 alone. Charities such as Greenpeace and Oceana (which owns Global Fishing Watch) criticised the UK government for allowing the trawling to take place, as did Professor Callum Robers, the marine scientist and author. He was quoted in the Guardian as saying: “MPAs are highly ineffective. They are fake, they are paper parks. There’s a massive problem here and the government needs to address it. They are misleading the public, wasting resources, protecting nothing.” The government has said that once the UK has left the Brexit transition phase at the end of this year then it will be in a better position to take strong action to protect the marine environment around the UK. Click here to read more on this story.

Belgium may use ancient charter to fish in English waters after Brexit: Much of Europe’s fishing industry faces heavy restrictions on fishing in UK waters once the Brexit transition period is over and Britain takes back control of its fishing grounds. The Belgian fishing industry has, however, claimed that a charter from the 1600s gives its fishermen “eternal rights” to fish in English waters, meaning that some of their fishermen could ignore such restriction. Signed in 1666 by Charles II the Fisheries Privilege charter granted fifty fishermen from Bruges the ongoing rights to fish in coastal British waters. A copy of the charter was unveiled on Belgian television by Flemish Prime Minister Geert Bourgeois and historian Luc Duerloo from the University of Antwerp said that “in principle” the charter still applied. However, it has also ben pointed out that the three and a half-century old charter pre-dates both the United Kingdom (which was created in 1707) and Belgium (which was formed in 1830) and legislation such as the Common Fisheries Policy and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea have superseded the charter. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Charles Clover on protecting the Dogger Bank: Charles Clover, the author, journalist and executive director Blue Marine Foundation has written of the importance of protecting the Dogger Bank from overfishing in the Spectator. Describing the area as the “ecological heart of the North Sea” explaining how it is a home to “soft corals … sharks and rays; it is a breeding ground for whiting, cod and sand eels, and a foraging area for seabirds and marine mammals.” However, illegal trawling, poor protection offered by EU regulations and electric pulse trawling have led to the decline of the Dogger Bank. Clover writes that action is now being taken. Greenpeace have dropped huge boulders across the area in an attempt to stop trawlers from operating, and once the Brexit transition period has ended the UK will be able to pass laws to prevent commercial fishing from taking place within the sections of the Dogger Bank which will fall under British jurisdiction. Clover writes that it would be a “lost opportunity” if this was not done, and says that “MPs must vote to remove supertrawlers, beam trawlers and electric pulse trawlers from protected waters such as the Dogger Bank from 1st January.” Read the full article on the Spectator website by clicking here.

Fisheries Bill clears Commons: The aim of “taking back control” of British waters has moved closer as the Fisheries Bill has successfully passed through the House of Commons. The Fisheries Bill will end the automatic right of EU vessels to fish in British waters and require foreign boats to be licenced if they are to access UK waters. Several amendments were voted down including an SNP bid for more control over Scottish fisheries and a Labour amendment to ban super-trawlers from operating in British waters. However, the Conservatives stated that the bill still contained the necessary legislation to stop supertrawlers form fishing in British waters. The bill will now pass to the House of Lords were further changes could be made. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Claims that cleaner fish make salmon farming more sustainable: An article on the Forbes website has looked at the issue of salmon farming being made more sustainable by the use of ‘cleaner fish’. These are fish species, usually wrasse and lumpsucker, which are used to eat parasites off salmon which are being raised in fish farms. Parasites are one of the many issues facing fish farms, with the large number of salmon being held in small pens creating the perfect conditions for parasites to reproduce. Cleaner fish are promoted as a safe and sustainable way of controlling parasite outbreaks in fish farms, with the fish farming industry making much of the environmental benefits of using such fish. While the Forbes article is generally positive about the use of cleaner fish it does highlight the environmental issues brought about by using these fish. While many cleaner fish are raised in hatcheries many more are captured from the wild with little thought as to the sustainability of such catches. Furthermore, once the cleaner fish have grown too big to be used to eat parasites off salmon they are destroyed as there is no other demand for these fish. Read the full article looking at this story here.