September 2017 – News

Huge Tuna Caught Off Coast of Wales: Two massive Bluefin tuna, both in excess of 500lbs, have been caught (and released) off the coast of Pembrokeshire this month. The first was caught by Andrew Alsop who spend over two hours reeling the 500lbs, 7ft 7in fish in when he caught it when shark fishing. See pictures here. The second was caught just days later by Rob Rennie and was even bigger at 540lbs – see pictures of this fish here. Both fish were returned as the UK’s Marine Management Organisation states that tuna should not be specifically targeted and if they are inadvertently caught they should be returned to the sea with as little harm done to them as possible.

Claim That the Economic Importance of Sea Angling is Exaggerated: An article in Fishing News, a commercial fishing publication which styles itself as the “voice of the industry,” has claimed that the economic impact of recreational sea angling is “grossly exaggerated.” The article – which appears to be based entirely on the observations of a single individual named Ian Gilbert – claims that that there are far fewer sea anglers in the UK than research suggests. The article specifically critiques the Sea Angling 2012 survey for gaining information on recreational sea angling from a small number of areas and then extrapolating this out to calculate the total number of anglers in the UK. However, the article itself appears to employ exactly the same methodology by viewing how many recreational anglers fish in a specific area on the south coast of England and then extrapolating this out to conclude that there are far fewer anglers than Sea Fishing 2012 claimed. The author also called for a rod licence system for sea anglers to reveal the true number of people going sea fishing. Additionally, the article also claims that bass stocks are “extremely healthy” and says that there are shoals of bass a mile and a half wide off the south coast, and that the methods scientists used to calculate bass numbers were “ridiculous.” This runs contrary to the finding of International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, the world-renowned marine research organisation (which is the oldest intergovernmental science organisation in the world) which has repeatedly warned since 2013 that European bass numbers have fallen so low that the species is in danger of becoming so depleted that they may not ever be able to recover, and urged bans on recreational and commercial fishing of this species. Read the full article here.

Warming Seas Forcing Cod and Haddock Away from British Waters: An article in the Guardian this month warned that traditional British species were being forced away from UK waters due to warming sea temperatures, and the tastes of UK consumers may have to change to accommodate the new species which are moving in to take their place. Drawing on research published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems the article said that cold water species such as haddock and cod were being forced northwards towards the poles as the waters around the British Isles warmed up and they sought the colder water they are adapted to live in. Plaice and sole may also become less common due to warming sea temperatures, but worryingly unlike cod and haddock these species will have no suitable new area to move to. Sea temperatures around the British Isles have already warmed by an average of 1.5C in the last thirty years and this upwards trend is set to continue for much of the next century. The warming waters have already attracted species such as cuttlefish and sardines to the UK in greater numbers, and red mullet and John Dory could take the place of the departing haddock and cod. Some species which are set to increase in number around the UK, such as the American razor clam, may provide a useful extra catch for UK fishermen, while others such as the club tunicate, could cause serious damage to commercially valuable native species such as mussels by outcompeting them for food. The article called for further research and more preparation the changes in UK sea fish species which are likely to occur in the coming decades . Read the full Guardian article by clicking here.

Beaches in Cornwall Closed Over Dangerous Jellyfish-like Creature: A number of beaches across Cornwall were closed this month after an unusually large number of Portuguese Man-of-War were washed up. The creatures are usually classed as jellyfish (although they are technically not true jellyfish) and have long flowing purple tentacles which can be up to fifty metres long and carry an extremely potent sting. Humans coming into contact with the tentacles usually suffer from intense pain, headaches and vomiting. In extreme cases the sting from a Portuguese Man-of-War can be fatal. When washed up the body of this creatures is intriguing as it looks somewhat like a deflated purple balloon. However, the tentacles retain their sting long after the creature has died, especially if they have been kept wet by the incoming tide, meaning that it is very dangerous to pick up or touch a Portuguese Man-of-War. Perranporth beach in Cornwall was closed in the first week of September due to the presence of Portuguese Man-of-War, and further sightings were made in the following days elsewhere in Cornwall and also along the coast of Wales and the Isles of Scilly. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Danish Fishermen Demand Access to UK Waters After Brexit: In familiar news another EU country has demanded continued access to UK fishing grounds after the Brexit process is complete. Denmark has demanded the access, following the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland who have all made similar calls in recent months. As a member of the EU Britain has to share its fishing grounds with any EU country which has a fishing industry. Over the last few decades many EU countries have come to rely heavily on access to UK waters, and the prospect of losing access to British waters would have far-reaching impacts on their industries. It remains to be seen how the government will take back control of Britain’s fishing grounds, with many within the UK fishing industry fearing that EU fishermen will be allowed to continue fishing in UK waters in return for access to the single market or some other trade deal. Click here to read more on this story.

Japanese Earthquake Causes Invasive Species to Travel to USA: The 2011 earthquake and following tsunami which caused huge damage and loss of life across Japan has had a significant impact on the marine ecosystem of the Pacific, with some of the consequences only now becoming apparent. The tsunami swept an estimated five million tons of debris into the ocean, with some objects being caught in trans-Pacific coastal currents and making their way across the ocean to the west coast of the USA. Now a scientific research paper has revealed that many Japanese species may have been transported to the USA on these pieces of debris, with scientists counting around 280 species usually found in Japanese waters being present on 600 pieces of debris found on US beaches. Many of these species are invertebrates such as isopods, mussels, barnacles and starfish, but at least two fish species had also been transported, most likely as eggs which then hatched in American waters. It is feared that many of the species which have travelled to the USA may be invasive species which could affect the health of natural US species. Scientists involved in the research believe that debris (and hitch-hiking Japanese species) could continue to arrive in US waters from Japan for the next ten years. Read more here.

Attenborough’s Concern Over Ocean Plastic: World famous naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough has spoken of his concern over plastic pollution in the world’s seas and oceans. In an interview with the Guardian Attenborough spoke of how plastic was once seen as a “wonderful” material due to the fact that it didn’t decay, but this is now the very reason why plastic is so damaging to the planet. In his new TV series, the sequel to The Blue Planet, Attenborough will look at the threats to marine life, as well as the animals and creatures found in the seas and oceans. The 91-year-old also spoke of his optimism that the issues with ocean plastic could be solved within a decade by scientific breakthroughs such as biodegradable plastic, if there was the will and organisation to do so. Read the full interview on the Guardian website by clicking here.

Wetherspoons to Phase Out Use of Plastic Straws: Pub chain JD Wetherspoons has announced that they will be phasing out the use of plastic straws in their 900 pubs to help protect the marine environment. Plastic straws, along with plastic coffee stirrers and bottle tops are examples of plastics which are only used for a few minutes but will take hundreds, possibly thousands, of years to decompose. Very few single use plastics are recycled and many end up in the world’s seas and oceans where they have a huge impact on marine ecosystems. Introducing recyclable paper straws or imposing a tax on plastic straws (similar to the 5p charge on plastic carrier bags which has seen usage significantly decrease) are proposed as ways of bringing down the number of plastic straws used across the UK. Read more here.

European Parliament Vote Aims to End North Sea Overfishing: Members of the European Parliament have voted on a series of measure which aim to end overfishing in the North Sea. Around 40% of stocks in the North Sea are overfished, but the new legislation will mean that quotas have to be set at levels considered sustainable by scientists. The Guardian reported that several amendments which would have watered down the proposals were rejected. These proposals will affect British fishermen until the UK leaves the EU, and post-Brexit the EU’s rules and quotas could still impact on British fishermen, depending on the deal which is negotiated for the UK fishing industry. Read more on the Guardian website by clicking here.

Couple Fined for Releasing Live Lobsters: A man and woman have been fined £15,000 for releasing non-native crustacean species into the English Channel as part of a Buddhist ceremony. Zhixiong Li, 30, and Ni Li, 33, who are both from London released hundreds of American lobsters and Dungeness crabs (a US species) from a boat which had sailed from Brighton Marina as part of the Fangsheng ritual, which is believed to bring good karma by returning animals to their natural environment. However, the foreign species could cause “untold damage” to the local marine ecosystem by killing native species. The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) brought about the prosecution after local fishermen reported catching foreign crustaceans and CCTV at Brighton Marina showed the group chartering three boats after buying the foreign crustaceans from a fish wholesaler in London. The MMO even offered a £20 reward to commercial fishermen for each non-native lobster or crab which was recovered, but so far only 323 have been recaptured, out of more than 700 which were released. More concerning is that some of the American lobster which have been recovered have been carrying eggs, showing that they have been breeding. The MMO stated that the true effects of releasing so many non-native species into UK waters may never be fully known. Click here to read more on this story.

Jellyfish on the Menu (Again): Last month the BBC ran an article about the numbers of jellyfish rocketing across the world’s seas and oceans and suggested that people could eat them as a way of controlling numbers. This month it was the Guardian’s turn to suggest the same thing. The newspaper reported that Stefano Piraino, a professor of Zoology at University of Salento in Italy is conducting a European Commission funded study into the feasibility of using jellyfish from the Mediterranean as a mainstream food source. Piraino said that as jellyfish spawned from polyps on the seabed removing mature jellyfish did not decrease numbers, meaning it is a sustainable source of seafood. He claimed that “it will only be a matter of time until we’re widely adapted to eating them.” Read the full article here.

Wars Over Illegal Fishing Could be Coming: An opinion piece in the Washington Post which was co-authored by James G. Stavridis, a former allied commander of NATO, claimed that escalating conflicts over fishing rights and grounds could lead to global ‘fish wars’. The article argued that declining fish stocks across the world mean that countries are becoming more forceful when it comes to protecting the stocks that they possess, and conflict may well arise when two countries disagree over who has the right to catch fish in a specific area of the ocean. China spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year subsidising its fishing industry to fish in distant waters, and the article says that Chinese fishing vessels are often given a Chinese Coast Guard escort to allow them to fish illegally in the territorial waters of other nations. Chinese fishing vessels have come into conflict with the governments of countries such as Indonesia and South Africa, with Argentina destroying a Chinese trawler which was fishing in its waters illegally. Written from a US perspective, the article says that Chinese infringement into American waters is set to happen next, with congress already asking the US Navy to bolster the Coast Guard and help stop illegal fishing. The article goes on to say that illegal fishing is a serious threat to US national security, and a relatively minor conflict over fishing could spark a much bigger war. Read the full article by clicking here.

Bizarre Sea Creature Washes Up on Texas Beach: A strange sea creature washed up on a Texan beach after Hurricane Harvey hit the area, with the creature initially remaining unidentified. Preeti Desai found the creature and put pictures on Twitter asking people to identify the strange decaying creature which had fang-like teeth and a long tail. Guesses ranged from a species new to science to a decomposing conger eel. However, eel specialist Dr. Kenneth Tighe believes the creature is a species of fangtooth snake-eel known as a tusky eel. The species is usually found in waters around one hundred metres deep off the coast of Texas, but the strong winds and flooding brought about by Hurricane Harvey may have cause the creature to have been shifted into shallow water where it eventually became washed up on the beach. Read more and see pictures of the creature here.

18ft Basking Shark Spotted Off Coast of North East England: A basking shark which was estimated at being 16 – 18ft in length has been spotted less than a mile off the coast North East England. Tony Avis, skipper of the charter boat Mistress, spotted the shark when returning to the Tyne and made the estimate of the creature’s size based on the distance from the dorsal fin to the tail. Basking sharks are found in UK waters, but usually to the west of Scotland. It is unusual to see one off the coast of the North East and in relatively shallow water close to the shore. This species can reach sizes of more than 30ft and weigh over five tons. Despite their size basking sharks are gentle giants which pose no threat to humans as they filter feed on plankton. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Northern Lights Linked to Sperm Whale Strandings: Scientists may have discovered what made twenty-nine sperm whales become stranded on beaches across Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands at the start of 2016. Sperm whales often migrate from the warmer waters of the Atlantic to the frigid waters of the Arctic to feed on the large number of squid which are present there. During this migration the sperm whales are believed to rely on the earth’s magnetic fields to navigate. However, it is believed that a natural phenomenon known as Aurora Borealis may interrupt the sperm whales ability to navigate and lead to them becoming stranded. The Aurora Borealis – more commonly known as the northern lights – happens when solar plasma erupts from the sun and reacts with the earth’s atmosphere, creating spectacular green, red, pink and yellow dancing lights in the sky. Nordic countries are the best place to see the northern lights in Europe, with many people travelling there specifically to see the northern lights, although the can sometimes be faintly seen from locations in the UK. The whale strandings took place at the same time as a huge display of the Aurora Borealis happened across northern Europe. It is believed that this temporarily distorted the earth’s magnetic field and caused the sperm whales to head in the wrong direction and into the relatively shallow North Sea. Sperm whales are not adapted to live in shallow water and once in this area they would be unable to find their way out and it was inevitable that they would weaken and eventually become stranded on beaches. Although the scientists are unable to definitely prove their northern lights theory it is the most convincing explanation of why there were so many stranded sperm whales across European beaches in such a short amount of time. Read more on the BBC website by clicking here.