September 2018 – News

Irish Navy detain Spanish fishing vessel with 5,000 blue sharks on board: The Irish Naval Service have detained a Spanish registered fishing vessel with an incredible 5,000 blue sharks on board, as well as more than a tonne of shark fins. Catching sharks is legal in EU waters if a vessel has the right to do so, but finning sharks has been illegal in EU waters since 2013. The Virxen da Blanca was boarded by the crew of the Irish offshore patrol vessel LÉ William Butler Yeats around 150 nautical miles off the southwest coast of Ireland. The Spanish vessel was then taken to Castletownbere in County Cork where it was handed over to the Irish police and Sea Fisheries Protection Authority. A special sitting of Clonakilty District Court was held and it was established that the vessel had 164,250kg of blue shark (the equivalent to around 5,000 individual sharks), 98kg of mako shark and 1,250kg of shark fins on board. The master of the vessel was charged and a release bond of €335,000 was placed on the Virxen da Blanca. Reports in the Spanish press state that the owners of the vessel believe that the Irish authorities have misinterpreted the rules on shark finning and that it was only the sharks anal fins on board, and they were simply a byproduct of gutting sharks which had been legally caught. The price of shark fin has rocketed in recent years, drive by demand from China and other Asian countries where shark fin soup is seen as a delicacy. Read more by clicking here.

EU allows anglers permitted to retain one bass per day: Anglers had been limited to fishing for bass on a catch and release basis only for this year, but the EU has now amended the legislation to allow anglers to retain one sea bass per angler per day from the 1st October until the 31st December 2018. The amendment, which applies to both shore and boat fishing, has been welcomed by anglers and angling groups who have been angry that some commercial fishermen have been able to catch and retain bass while anglers have had to return any bass they catch. The change of legislation comes after ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) reassessed bass and found that numbers were higher than expected and that further research showing that bass survival rates from catch and release fishing were higher than expected. It is yet to be decided whether or not anglers will be able to retain any bass in 2019. Read more here.

770lb bluefin tuna caught in commercial nets off coast of Devon: A huge bluefin tuna has been caught off the coast of Devon, but strict EU rules mean that the crew of the commercial vessel which inadvertently caught it cannot keep or sell the tuna and it has had to be donated to science and dissected for research purposes. The fishing vessel Constant Friend was trawling for spats when it caught the 770lb (350kg) tuna in its nets, and the fish was already dead by the time it was brought onto the boat. British fishermen have no quota for bluefin tuna so the fish, which was worth an estimated £10,000 could not be sold or even retained to be eaten. Seven EU nations do have quota for bluefin, including France, Spain and Italy. Indeed, French boats recently caught around fifty bluefin tuna in British territorial waters off the coast of Jersey and were able to retain and sell the fish, something which would have been illegal for UK fishermen to do. Under EU rules all British commercial and recreational fishermen must return all caught bluefin tuna to the sea unharmed and as quickly as possible. Read more and see pictures of the tuna by clicking here.

Scallop conflict between Britain and France potentially resolved: At the end of last month a conflict between British and French fishermen, which had first flared up in 2012 and continued in 2013, was reignited. British fishermen have been legally taking scallops from a zone just outside of France’s waters, but French fishermen – who are banned from catching scallops in the summer months – have vociferously claimed that the British fishermen are unfairly depleting stocks. Towards the end of August the conflict came to violence with French fishermen throwing rocks and smoke bombs at British fishing boats, and at least one French boat attempting to ram a British vessel. The issue has continued on this month, with both groups continuing to argue that they are right. However, French fishermen were accused of hypocrisy by the British when they ventured into British waters off the Channel Islands and caught bluefin tuna. The species is classed as Near Threatened in European waters, and Endangered on a worldwide basis by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, but French fishermen still have a quota to catch bluefin tuna. British commercial fishermen, on the other hand, must return all bluefin tuna to the sea unharmed, as the UK has no quota for this species. The two French boats reportedly caught forty-four tuna which weighed between 50kg (110lbs) and 120kgs (265lbs) and would have been worth more than £100,000. The French fishermen have therefore carried out exactly the same actions as they are accusing the British of, leading to the claims of hypocrisy. Read more here. Tensions were raised further when French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert said that the French Navy was “ready to step in” to stop clashes between French and British fishing vessels. and also carry out checks. In the middle of September talks between the two nations broke down several times without a consensus being reached. However, the BBC reported that some sort of compromise had been reached with the larger British fishing boats agreeing to stop fishing for scallops in the disputed area in return for greater fishing rights elsewhere, while smaller British boats will be able to continue to gather scallops in the Bay of Seine.

Fresh row over ‘British crab pots damaged by French fishermen’: Just days after the scallop conflict had been resolved a new row began over crab fishing. Cornish fishermen say that French boats have deliberately damaged crab pots. The British fishermen say that damage which could amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds has been caused by French trawlers dragging their nets through crab pots which have been set and clearly marked. The incidents are occurring within the twelve mile zone which Britain controls, although the French trawlers do have permission to be there. The BBC reported that one Cornish fisherman said that he had lost 160 crab pots and that fishermen were speculating that the actions of the French fishermen could be motivated by the fact that they could lose the right to fish in this area after Brexit, or as a result of the conflict over scallops. Click here to read more.

Army warning over magnet fishing craze: Last month we reported on the growing popularity of magnet fishing where members of the public use super powerful magnets to pull objects out of canals, rivers and harbours. However, the Ministry of Defence along with the Canal and Rivers Trust has warned over the practice, stating that it is highly dangerous. Items recovered from canals include hand grenades, artillery shells, knives, Samurai swords and even a MAC-10 machine pistol. The Canal and Rivers Trust has said that there is a by-law prohibiting people taking anything out of canals which it owns (although the fine is only £25 and this is rarely enforced) and anyone magnet fishing in a private canal needs the landowners permission. The Ministry of Defence told the BBC that if anyone recovered “live ordnance” they should “contact their local police force as a matter of urgency.” It was also pointed out that there is a cost to the tax payer when the police or military have to come to deal with explosives which have been recovered when magnet fishing. Last month a father and son lost their lives when magnet fishing in a canal in Huddersfield, although the exact series of events which led to their deaths remains unknown. Click here to read more on this story.

UK calls for third of world’s oceans to be protected by 2030: Environment Secretary Michael Gove has called for one third of the world’s seas and oceans to be protected by 2030. Currently just 3.7% are designated as marine protected areas. Gove stated that protecting the oceans was a “global challenge which requires global action” and that “UK has already safeguarded vast swathes of precious marine habitats, but we must go further.” The UK is in the process of rolling out a programme designating areas of the UK’s territorial waters as protected areas but there is little consensus over the protection each area will be given, and some may even continue to allow damaging commercial fishing methods to take place within them. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Hundreds of mackerel trapped in shallow pools on Cornish beaches: In an unusual, but not unprecedented, incident this week hundreds of mackerel ended up trapped in shallow pools by the receding tide in Cornwall. There were actually two separate incidents (one in Carbis Bay and one in St. Ives Harbour) with people observing hundreds of mackerel trapped in pools just a few inches deep. Local press reported that some people were easily catching some mackerel (but only those over the legal size limit of 12 inches/30cm) while gulls and other seabirds were picking off others. However, the RSPCA reported that the majority of the mackerel made it back out to sea when the tide came back in. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Australian authorities cull sharks after attacks: Two people were critically injured in shark attacks off the coast of Queensland this month, leading to the Australian authorities launching a highly controversial shark cull which has so far seen six sharks killed. A woman in her forties and a 12-year-old girl were both injured in shark attacks which happened within twenty-four hours of each other. This led to a drum line being set up which caught six sharks, one of which was reportedly a 12-foot long tiger shark. A spokesperson for Fisheries Queensland said that the sharks were “humanely euthanized” but conservation groups strongly criticised the measures pointing out that there was no way of knowing if the sharks that attacked the people were the ones that were caught, and that shark species across the world are suffering from declining numbers due to overfishing. This year there have so far been thirty-three shark attacks on humans in Australian waters, two of which have resulted in fatalities. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Footage of sharks caught on drumlines shows impact of Australia’s shark cull: In a linked story exclusive footage obtained by the Daily Mail showed endangered shark species caught on drumlines, exposing the damaging reality of Australia’s shark cull. The Daily Mail describes how thousands of sharks are being “impaled” and “deliberately killed” on baited hooks in order to protect tourists visiting Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The paper reported that around 10,400 sharks had been caught in this manner in Queensland alone – the vast majority of which would have been harmless to humans. It remains to be seen how the emergence of the footage will affect public support for the shark cull. Click here to see the footage.

Tyres used to created artificial reef in France removed from the sea: An artificial reef which was created out of tens of thousands of old car tyres has been removed from the sea after it was discovered that the tyres were releasing toxic chemicals. The project was conceived in the early 1980s and was seen at the time as a way of getting rid of useless, used-up tyres while simultaneously helping the marine environment. Around 25,000 tyres were dropped into the sea several hundred metres off the coast of Cannes on the French Riviera. Initially seen as a way of both recycling worn out tyres and enhancing the marine environment it was eventually determined in 2005 that the tyres were leaking toxic chemicals. Thousands of tyres were removed in 2016, and divers and a boat with heavy lifting gear are removing around 10,000 more tyres over the coming weeks. The remainder of the tyres are set to be removed next year. Other artificial reefs made out of tyres, such as one off the coast of Florida, have also been removed from the sea. Read more on this story by clicking here.

New invention seeks to clean up the world’s oceans: A new device will seek to remove rubbish, especially plastics, from the world’s seas and ocean, starting with the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Officially known as System 001 the device – which has been heavily promoted acrss the world’s media – is a 600-metre long boom which uses tidal currents to float into areas where plastic waste and rubbish has accumulated. Debris are trapped within System 001 and can later be removed and recycled. The device was created by the not-for-profit organisation Ocean Cleanup which is led by Boyant Slat, a Dutch inventor who came up with the idea for System 001 and founded Ocean Cleanup when he was still a teenager. Read more by clicking here.

Noise from fish farms reportedly harms other marine life: News broke this month that noise generated by fish farms to keep seals away and stop them from taking fish may harm other marine life, especially whales and dolphins. The Times reported that acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs) may send sound up to thirty miles through the ocean and protected species such as minke whales and harbour porpoises could be affected. The Scottish Government and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee want ADDs listed as a form of “loud and pervasive” noise pollution which would bring much greater scrutiny to their use. Issues such as parasite infestations, huge chemical and antibiotic use and the capture of huge numbers of wild wrasse to use as cleaner fish in farms mean that the entire UK fish farm industry is coming under heavy criticism from conservationists and the general public in recent years. Read more here.

Shop in Kuwait caught sticking ‘googly eyes’ on fish: A shop in Kuwait has reportedly been shut down by authorities in the country due to sticking plastic ‘googly eyes’ on fish to make them look fresher than they actually are. The plastic eyes are sold in arts and crafts shops and often used in children’s art projects. Images of the silvery fish with plastic eyes placed on them went viral across the world this month. The Metro reports that the shop was shut down by the country’s ministry of commerce when their actions became known. Read more and see pictures by clicking here.

Man seriously hurt when bitten by shark off coast of Cork in “angling incident”: There were reports that a man had been seriously hurt when he was bitten by a blue shark this month, although the incident is believed to be an “angling accident” rather than a shark attack. The Belfast man was fishing in a boat eight miles off the coast of Cork when he suffered what was described as a “serious injury” to his lower arm. A spokesperson for the RNLI said that there was “a bit of a struggle when pulling the shark on board” which resulted in the man becoming injured. The boat the man was fishing on was met by a RNLI vessel and the man was transferred on board and taken to shore where he was then taken to hospital by ambulance. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Barking seal sparks RNLI callout: A lifeboat crew were dispatched after members of the public phoned 999 to report that a Jack Russel dog was apparently struggling in the water off Roker Pier in Sunderland. However, when they arrived on the scene they found that the dog was in fact a small seal which was not in distress. An RNLI spokesperson said that they responded to animal rescues as the owners often entered the water to try and rescue their pets and ended up putting themselves at risk. Read more here.

Japan fail in bid to overturn ban on commercial whaling: The Japanese government has failed in its attempt to reinstate whaling after losing a vote at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting held in Brazil. The IWC ban on whaling has been in place since 1984, but there are a number of significant loopholes. Norway and Iceland still carry out whaling and Japan also hunts whales under the claims that it is doing so for the purposes of “scientific research.” There are also a number of subsistence communities which are also allowed to carry out limited whaling using traditional methods. If Japan had been successful in overturning the ban they would have been able to catch whales in much higher numbers than they currently do, but only twenty-seven governments voted with Japan and forty-one against. Japan has said that it may quit the IWC in response to losing the vote. Read more about this here. The annual meeting also produced a non-binding agreement to give protection to whale species in perpetuity. Following what the BBC described as an “angry debate” forty governments voted in favour of what is now known as the Florianopolis Declaration (after the Brazilian city where the meeting was held) and twenty-seven against. The usual pro-whaling nations of Iceland, Norway and Japan had proposed a different agreement where commercial whaling would take place in “co-existence” with conservation but this was rejected. Read more here.

EU rules could force sea anglers to report catches: There are fears that new EU rules on recording the catches of recreational sea anglers could force UK anglers to become officially registered and begin to record and report their catches. The proposal is being made as the EU attempts to rebuild and restore fish stocks through its much-criticised Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This is series the rules, laws and legislation which allow EU nations to fish in a Europe-wide EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone), govern how much quota to catch various species each nation has and provides subsidies and other support for the fishing industries of EU nations. However, the new plans will see the fish caught by recreational anglers included in CFP data for the first time, something which is obviously only possible if recreational catches are recorded. Of particular concern to anglers will be the phrases included in the official EU documentation on this proposal. Member states will have to “put in place a registration or a licensing system monitoring the number of natural and legal persons involved in recreational fisheries” and “collect data on catches from such fisheries through catch reporting or other data collection mechanisms.” This catch data will also have to be sent “electronically to the competent authorities on a daily basis or after each fishing trip.” It is fair to say that such measures would fundamentally transform the very nature of UK sea angling which has been mostly unregulated since the times of the Magna Carta in the thirteenth century and the entire sector would have to make vast changes to accommodate such legislation. Of course Brexit and the fact that Britain is leaving the EU means that this proposed legislation will may not apply to the UK, but if it is implemented by the EU before the UK leaves than it will become UK law and British anglers will have to follow it until it is repealed by the UK government – something which is not guaranteed to happen. This is an issue which all anglers in the UK and across Europe should watch very closely. Click here to read the full EU document on this.

First steps taken to protect high seas: The high seas – the majority of the ocean beyond the 200 nautical mile limit of any nation – may finally receive protection following the conclusion of two weeks of United Nations talks between international governments in New York. Currently the high seas are almost totally unregulated, with only limited and piecemeal laws regulating which activities can take place there. It is hoped that there will eventually be an international consensus covering issues such as marine protected areas where fishing, oil exploration and other commercial activity is banned and agreeing impact assessments before potentially damaging activities take place. While it is still in the very early stages the talks in New York are being seen as the first steps in achieving this and have been welcomed by conservation groups, environmentalists and national governments. Click here to read more on this story.

Footage of tope and spurdog captured by boat angler off the coast of the Isle of Man: An angler captured brilliant footage of shark species swimming off the coast of the Isle of Man this month. Craig Whalley was boat fishing in Douglas Bay when he used a fishing rod to lower his GoPro camera into the water and filmed tope and spurdog feeding on a huge shoal of herring. Craig has also filmed basking sharks, bottlenose dolphins and seals this year. See the footage by clicking here.

EU urged not to reintroduce damaging fisheries subsidies: Forty not-for profit organisations have urged the European Union not to bring back financial aid to help construct new fishing vessels for fishing communities in the outermost regions of the EU. Fisheries subsidies to build new vessels were phased out over a decade ago for the construction and purchase of new vessels, as the EU eventually accepted that there were too many vessels chasing too few fish in EU waters. However, in 2017 a non-legislative resolution was passed to allow the fleets of distant territories belonging to France, Spain and Portugal to be renewed using EU subsidies. Now the forty organisations – which includes Client Earth, Our Fish, the World Wildlife Fund, Seas at Risk, the Pew Environmental Trust and Oceana – have written to EU commissioners Karmenu Vella and Cecilia Malmström calling on them not to reintroduce the subsidies. Although the organisations accept that communities in the outskirts of the EU need support they do not believe that subsidies which encourage overfishing and damage the marine environment are an effective way of achieving this. The mover by the EU to reintroduce subsidies has been met with surprise. An assessment in 2008 found that the EU fishing fleet was two to three times above the level it should have been at to fish sustainably, and since then it has reduced by less than a tenth. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Seal slaps kayaker in the face with an octopus: A bizarre video emerged this month showing a seal emerging from the water and slapping a man in a kayak across the face with an octopus. The incident happened off the coast of Kaikoura on New Zealand’s South Island and it is believed that the seal may have been trying to kill and eat the octopus. See the footage of the incident by clicking here.

Supermarket Iceland to sell ‘unpopular’ but sustainable fish: UK retailer Iceland has started selling less common species of fish which are not currently popular and are often thrown away as bycatch by commercial vessels. Branded under the What the Fish label the £8 packets contain whiting, megrim, gurnard or pouting, all perfectly edible species which are currently in low demand in the UK. The supermarket hopes that by providing these less common species it will encourage commercial fishermen to catch them and take the pressure off more popular species such as cod and haddock. The range may also be expanded to include fillets of more popular species which are considered the wrong size or shape to sell to consumers at full price. It is currently estimated that around 40% of all of the fish caught across the world is thrown back into the sea dead as bycatch because there is no market for it or fishermen want to use the space on their vessels for a higher value species. Click here to read more on this story.

Pollution threatens the future of killer whales: Persistent chemical pollution in the seas could kill up to half of all killer whales in the world, putting the future of the species under threat. This would mean that killer whale populations in Europe (including the UK), Japan and the USA would all be lost in coming years. The culprit is PCBs, chemicals which were once widely used in everything from paint to electrical appliances and plastics. While they were banned decades ago they remain in the environment for centuries and heave leached into the seas and ocean where they accumulate. Killer whales are uniquely vulnerable to PCBs due to the way in which PCBs amass in the killer whales body fat and pass from mothers to their young in milk. There is unfortunately little which can be done to remove PCBs from the environment, but campaign groups have said that more needs to be done to stop more PCBs from entering the seas and ensure that PCBs which are already present are safely disposed of. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Beluga whale in River Thames: A rare beluga whale has swan into the Thames, and despite concern over its welfare it [at the time of writing] appears to be feeding and behaving normally. Usually found in Arctic and sub-Arctic waters beluga whales can grow to 16 – 18 feet in length and weigh over 3,000lbs. The Thames whale has become known as Benny and divers have observed it diving and foraging for food, normal behaviour which indicates that the whale is healthy. However, there are concerns that Benny may enter busy shipping lanes and members of the public have been asked only to observe Benny from the shore and not try to get close on boats. While many newspapers have reported this as a positive news story the Guardian wrote that the “beluga fever” was “tinged with sorrow” as it was difficult to see how Benny will get out of the Thames and how the story can possibly end well. Read more by clicking here.

Shark species face extinction under current catch levels: A report on the environment section of the Al Jazeera website has outlined the threat that many shark species face, and pointed out that a number of species face extinction due to the rate they are being caught. It is estimated that humans catch around 100 million sharks each year, with the huge demand for shark fin soup from Asian countries, particularly China, being responsible for much of this demand. Once confined to a luxury food of elites in China the rising prosperity of the nation has meant that demand for shark fin soup has rocketed. Shark hunting has grown rapidly to keep up with this demand, with the report in Al Jazeera stating that half of the world’s supply of dried shark fins passed through the port of Hong Kong, and one third of these fins were from threatened species of shark. There has, however, been some signs of positive change. Air China now refuses to transport shark fins and the Chinese government has banned the serving of shark fin soup at state banquets and official events. Hong Kong’s largest restaurant and catering firm Maxim’s – which has over 1000 outlets across Asia – finally bowed to years of pressure from campaigners and stated that it would ban shark fin from its menu’s from January 2020. There are also plans to expand shark tourism such as diving with sharks and shark watching boat trips. The shark tourism industry was reportedly worth $315 million in 2013. Read more on this story by clicking here.