September 2019 – News

MSC to suspend sustainable status for North Sea cod: In 2017 the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) verified North Sea cod as being sustainable, with the government-funded quango Seafish stating on its website that this marked the “culmination of a remarkable turnaround” for the species and was “a cause for great celebration.” However, just two years later concern over falling stock levels means that the MSC have suspended North Sea cods sustainable status, stating that numbers of the species are “below safe biological levels.” While new types of nets and the closure of spawning grounds to fishing had seen the numbers of North Sea cod recover, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas stated in June of this year that cod were once again being “harvested unsustainably.” This led to the MSC to investigate and announce this month that cod would no longer be considered sustainable, and cod caught from the North Sea from late October will no longer show the MSC blue tick indicating that they have been verified as a sustainable source of seafood. The news represents a rapid and calamitous decline for the species in just two years. However, Aoife Martin of Seafish found a bizarre way of putting a positive spin on the terrible news in the Guardian, telling the paper that “North Sea cod is still a sustainably managed fishery … there will just be less of it available to buy.” Read more in the Guardian here.

Barriers on UK rivers are threatening the survival of migratory fish species: An article in the Guardian this month has reported that dams, weirs, sluices are blocking the UK’s rivers and threatening migratory species such as trout, salmon, shad and eels. The paper looked at research produced by Swansea University which found that there are around 460,000 barriers built on rivers across Europe, with this number set to rise to 600,000 by 2020. The barrier stop migratory species from travelling to the sea from their freshwater spawning grounds, and also stop nutrients flowing downstream and into the sea which has an impact on marine environments. The study stated that only one per cent of UK rivers were classed as “free flowing” meaning that they had no major barriers built on them. However, even free flowing rivers could have smaller barriers such as pipes, culverts, sluices and weirs built on them which could prevent some fish from migrating or slow fish down so that they can be more easily caught by predators such as otters or herons. Read the full article on the Guardian website by clicking here.

Terrible Sun journalism with £2.7 million tuna article: An article in the Sun this month stated that a 600lb tuna “worth £2.7 million” had been caught and released in Irish waters by anglers from Cork. While the tuna had certainly been caught (and is a notable story in itself) many anglers would have raised eyebrows at the ridiculous and outright incorrect valuation the newspaper attached to the tuna. The Sun used the £2.5 million that Kiyoshi Kimura, a Japanese sushi-chain owner, paid for a similarly sized tuna at the first tuna auction of the year at Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo in January as the basis for its £2.7 million valuation of the bluefin caught in Irish waters. However, the huge sum paid in Japan is massively inflated as winning the auction first tuna of the year is a great honour associated with bestowing respect, prestige, luck (and publicity) upon the buyer. It is not in any way a true market rate, and a 600lb tuna would sell for a fraction of the price which the Sun are claiming. Stating that bluefin tuna are a fish which is worth over one million pounds due to misunderstanding the tradition behind the first Japanese auction of the year is unfortunately a common trait of UK media outlets. Read more by clicking here.

Loch Ness Monster could be a large eel, according to scientists: A group of scientists from New Zealand have revealed that the Loch Ness Monster may in fact be a giant eel. The scientists came from New Zealand to carry out DNA tests on the waters of Loch Ness study which aimed to uncover the range of different species which live in the loch. However, this was picked up by much of the press as a search for the Loch Ness Monster. Their analysis ruled out the presence of a dinosaur such as a plesiosaur or a larger species such as a Greenland shark or sturgeon. Large freshwater fish such as a Wels catfish (which can reach 16ft in length and 660lbs) were also ruled out when no DNA of this species was found. This left the researchers with a large eel as the only explanation for the Loch Ness Monster, as there was a large amount of eel DNA found by the scientists, and the presence of a giant eel could not be discounted. Read the full article about this story on the BBC website by clicking here.

BBC finds fish still being discarded at sea: An investigation by the BBC has found that fish discards are still taking place despite new EU rules which are designed to prevent this from happening. Under these rules commercial fishermen are no longer supposed to discard fish which are caught over their quota. However, BBC Inside Out South West has gained evidence of fish still being thrown away when they should have been retained and brought back to land as part of the boats catch. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates that around thirteen per cent of all fish catches are thrown back into the sea as discards. Click here to read more on this story.

Whales are becoming stranded on British beaches in record numbers: Whales, dolphins and other marine mammals have become stranded on British beaches in record numbers, with over 1000 stranded in 2017 alone. Scientists have been unable to come up with a definitive cause of the increased number of strandings, but disease, ship strikes, commercial fishing and plastic pollution are all thought to play a part. However, there was some good news. Scientists believe that increases in the numbers of whales and dolphins in British waters may be partly responsible for the rise in the numbers of strandings. The research also discovered that twenty different species of whales and dolphins have been present in UK waters, including a dwarf sperm whale which had never been recorded in British waters before. Click here to read more.

Mystery surrounds loss of German sea data station: An underwater data station has gone missing from the bottom of the Baltic Sea, leaving scientists baffled. The data station is owned and operated by GEOMAR, and ocean research centre in Kiel which is funded by the German government. The station provides data on sea temperature, nutrient levels and water quality, but stopped sending data on the 21st of August. When divers went to investigate they found only a torn power cable and no sign of the half-tonne data station. The scientists say that it would have been impossible for the station – which was located over a mile offshore in water over twenty metres deep – to have been dragged away by the tide or a storm and ruled out large sea animals being responsible. The head or GEOMAR, Professor Hermann Bange, told the BBC that the data gained from the station was “priceless” and appealed for anyone with information about the fate of the station to come forward. Read more here.

Endangered shark species mislabelled and sold in fish and chip shops: A Daily Mirror investigation has found that UK consumers are unwittingly eating endangered species of shark due to a lack of regulation over the way different species are named and labelled. The paper arranged for DNA testing to be carried out on fifteen samples of fish labelled as “rock salmon” bought from fish and chip shops in Great Yarmouth and Bournemouth. Five samples turned out to be starry smooth-hound and ten were spiny dogfish (a species more commonly known to anglers as spurdog) which is considered endangered in European waters by the IUCN. Spiny dogfish cannot be targeted by commercial fishermen, but EU rules allow spiny dogfish caught as bycatch to be retained and sold. Regulations then allow this to be labelled as rock salmon by fish and chip shops, effectively hiding the fact that an endangered species is being sold. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Deep-water roundnose grenadier caught by Norwegian angler: A deep-sea fish known as a roundnose grenadier has been caught by a 19-year-old angler from Norway. Oscar Lundahl was targeting halibut off the coast of Andøya in northern Norway in water reportedly over 700 metres deep when the “dinosaur-like” fish was hooked. It took half an hour to reel the fish in, and the pressure changes meant that the fish was dead by the time it came to the surface. Lundahl, however, did not waste the fish and took it home and cooked it, describing it as being a “bit like cod but tastier.” The fish is referred to as a ratfish in the Daily Mail article, who also erroneously use an image of a rabbit fish (as of September 2019) to illustrate the fish in its natural habitat. Click here to read more and see photos of the fish.

Controversy as shark paraded through Plymouth Seafood Festival: A dead blue shark has been paraded through the streets of Plymouth as part of the city’s seafood festival, sparking online outrage over the treatment of the creature. Photographs shared on the official Visit Plymouth Instagram account showing two men holding up the shark and carrying it through a crowd of onlookers at Plymouth Seafood Festival. Visit Plymouth said that they had given over control of their Instagram to the owners of a local restaurant for the duration of the seafood festival, and the restaurant’s owners were responsible for sharing the image. The shark had reportedly been caught as bycatch by a commercial fishing vessel and was already dead when it was recovered from the nets. The scene came about as it was decided that rather than throw the shark back into the sea dead or use it as lobster or crab pot bait, it would be taken to the seafood festival and cooked by the restaurant’s owner. Despite this explanation there was outrage across social media over the way a slow-growing and vulnerable species was treated. It was also pointed out that the treatment of the shark was at odds with the celebrations which were taking place to mark Plymouth Sound being designated as a National Marine Park. Blue sharks are listed as Near Threatened on a global basis by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, although there are no rules or regulations governing the capture of blue sharks in UK waters and no suggestion that anyone involved in this incident has been involved in any wrongdoing. The Daily Mirror reported that the organisers of the Plymouth Seafood Festival said that they were “surprised and disappointed” by the treatment of the shark, and Visit Plymouth said that there were reviewing their social media policy following the incident. Read more on the Daily Mirror website by clicking here.

EU fishermen face consequences for fishing in UK water after Brexit: While the government has been warned that the Royal Navy and other enforcement agencies lack sufficient assets to protect British territorial waters after the UK has left the EU a fisheries chief warned that those found illegally fishing in UK waters will still face severe consequences. Barrie Deas, the CEO of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, has told the that there would still be a fishing agreement between the EU and the UK. While EU and EEA vessels could ignore this agreement and fish illegally in UK waters, and the UK authorities would only be able to physically stop a small number of them, they would all be breaking the EU’s own rules on IUU (illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing). This would seriously jeopardise the vessels ability to legally fish in UK waters in the future, and may also lead to further issues when they try to fish elsewhere in the EU. Mr Deas stressed that physically stopping boats from fishing in UK waters was only once aspect of the issue, and that the legal ramifications from vessels breaking and ignoring rules would also be a major way in which the UK could protect its own fishing grounds after Brexit. Read more on the Express website by clicking here.