September 2021 – News

Tuna numbers increase but shark species are threatened: New emerged this month that a number of tuna species are beginning to recover after being fished to the edge of extinction. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global organization which complies the Red List of endangered species, has moved bluefin tuna from the Endangered category to Least Concern on a global basis, although they remain Near Threatened in European waters. Albacore and yellowfin tuna have also been moved from Near Threatened to Least Concern and southern bluefin has been reclassified as Endangered when it was previously rated as Critically Endangered. The IUCN has warned that tuna numbers remain depleted in areas such as the Indian Ocean and parts of the Atlantic. The outlook for shark and ray species is not as good. The IUCN now list 37 per cent of these species as threatened. Dr Andy Cornish of the World Wildlife Fund was quoted by the BBC as saying “The alarm bells couldn’t be ringing louder for sharks and rays … we are losing this ancient group of creatures – starting to lose it species by species right here, right now – we desperately need urgent action.” Read the full article on the BBC website by clicking here.

Footage of angel sharks captured off the coast of Wales: Angel sharks, a species which is classed as Critically Endangered has been filmed off the Welsh coast. Angel sharks were once common around the British Isles but overfishing and habitat destruction has seen them reclassified as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The footage was captured by marine biologist Jake Davies at Cadigan Bay and features juvenile angel sharks which suggests that the species may be spawning in Welsh waters. Read more on the ITV News website by clicking here.

Krill fishing threatens Antarctic marine life: Industrial fishing of krill – a small crustacean which grows to a few centimetres in length – is threatening the entire marine ecosystem of the Arctic. Krill is one of the most abundant animals in the world with an estimated 400 million tons present in the Arctic alone and provides a vital source of food for species such as whales, penguins, fish and seals. However, demand for oil derived from krill, which is used as a health supplement, is leading to the species being overfished. Quotas for krill have been significantly increased in recent years and while the number of krill fishing vessels is low, those which are operating in Antarctic waters can catch upwards of 1000 tons of krill per day. Russia, China and South Korea all rushing to build krill fishing vessels and China more than doubled its quota of krill between 2019 and 2020. Read more on this story on the Guardian website by clicking here.

Greenpeace and fishermen declare “state of emergency” over industrial trawlers: Small-scale fishermen from the southern coast of England have joined with Greenpeace to condemn industrial trawlers which are operating in the English Channel. The trawlers are using a controversial technique known as ‘fly shooting’ which uses a huge net to encircle entire shoals of fish. While the technique is legal local fishermen have complained that it is simply too efficient and leaves them with few fish to catch. Chris Thorne of Greenpeace said: “Local fishers along the south coast are in complete crisis … they largely blame that on fly-shooters that sweep in and fish over an area extremely quickly … local boats find there is nothing left. They cannot compete with these kinds of vessels.” Fly shooting has become much more common in recent years with around seventy-five vessels, mostly French and Dutch but some UK based, are now licenced to use the method. A spokesperson from DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said that the concerns of environmental groups and the fishing community were being taken into account and that any vessel operating in UK waters must follow regulations set out by the British government. Click here to read more on this story on the Sky News website.

Faroe Island dolphin killing sparks outrage: The Faroese tradition of Grindadrap which sees dolphins and whales being forced onto beaches and killed has been condemned by animal rights activists and conservation groups. This year an estimated 1,500 dolphins were killed, with men filmed grappling with dolphins on beaches before cutting the necks of dolphins with knives and stabbing them with harpoons. The Grindadrap is an ancient tradition which can be traced back over one thousand years and is seen as an important part of Faroese culture, but the scale of the dolphin deaths this year has sparked international outrage. Ocean conservation charity Sea Shepherd condemned the actions and released a ten minute video showing hundreds of slain dolphins lying on beaches, while TV presenter and conservationist Chris Packham tweeted “The Faroese killed an entire pod of 1428 dolphins yesterday. That’s news. Report it.” Read more on this story on the Sky News website by clicking here.

Rising sea temperatures link to tuna’s return to UK waters: A study carried out by government scientists and Cornish fishermen has examined the link between warming seas and tuna returning to British waters. CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) worked with the crews of fifteen Cornish fishing boats to catch and tag tuna which were then tracked. The three month study required the UK to be given a quota to catch bluefin tuna from The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which allowed recreational anglers to catch and tag the tuna. The lack of UK quota had previously prevented tuna being caught or targeted, even on a catch-and-release basis, although seven EU nations do have quota to catch tuna commercially. Sky News said that around one hundred tuna had been caught as part of the study, with their sizes ranging from 150 – 250cm. Sophy Phillips from CEFAS told Sky “There used to be a strong recreational business [for catching tuna in UK waters] in the 1930s. In 2014 we started to see them again. We don’t know why.” Read more on this story by clicking here.

Conservationists warn of environmental impact of seabed mining: An article in Time magazine investigated the issue of seabed mining this month. The article stated that rare earth metals which can be used to make batteries that power electronic devices and electric cars are found in high quantities across the seabed in an area known as the Clarion-Clipperton Zone which lies between Mexico and Hawaii. Seabed mining companies are seeking permission to mine the metals, claiming that they are essential for the development of technology which will help stop climate change. Ocean advocacy groups, environmentalists and conservationists have urged caution, stating that mining the metals could cause a cascade of negative effects on the global marine environment. Pippa Howard from Fauna and Flora International told Time “If this goes wrong, it could trigger a series of unintended consequences that messes with ocean stability, ultimately affecting life everywhere on earth … they’ve got living ecosystems on them. Taking those nodules and then using them to make batteries is like making cement out of coral reefs.” While seabed mining is not yet permitted in international waters pressure to allow it is set to grow. The number of electric cars being manufactured is predicted to increase significantly over the next twenty years, meaning they there is not enough cobalt being mined on land to meet demand. Furthermore many rare earth metals such as cobalt and mined in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo where there are ongoing accusations of human rights abuses. While seabed mining companies say that their actions will be low impact conservation groups have pointed to areas where seabed mining has been carried out on a small scale on a trial basis. A seabed mining test was carried out in an area similar to the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the late 1980s. The Journal Scientific Reports states that thirty years later marine life in the area has not recovered and the tracks of the vehicles which carried out the mining are still visible on the seabed. Read more on this article by clicking here.

New fish pass allows migrating species to travel up rivers: A new fish pass has been built on the River Dart in Devon to allow migrating species to swim up the river to spawn. Recent years have seen an increasing number of weirs, dams and sluices built across rivers in both the UK and the rest of Europe. This has meant that species such as trout, salmon, silver eels and shad have had their migration routes blocked which could lead to the long-term decline of these species. The fish pass which has been built Buckfast Abbey was partly funded by a £100,000 grant from the Environment Agency. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Concern over China’s fishing fleet: An article from AP News this month examined the actions of China’s fishing fleet and the impact it has on fish and squid stocks. Around 300 Chinese vessels from the fleet have been operating off the coast of South America where they are targeting Humboldt squid. The sheer size of China’s fishing fleet is a cause for concern amongst conservationists and environmental groups. While it is officially capped at 3,000 vessels AP News reports that there may be thousands more operating and generous state subsidies allow hundreds of distant water vessels to travel across the world in search of catches and stay at sea for many months. The vessels which are currently fishing off South America left China in December of last year and have crossed the Indian Ocean and Atlantic to eventually end up off the coast of Peru. AP News also reported that a number of the boats had been accused of using forced labour, illegal fishing and other breaches of maritime law such as fishing with their transponders switched off so they could not be tracked. Read more on this story by clicking here.

Shark fin seizure in Colombia: Authorities in Colombia have have seized 3,493 shark fins which were set to be flown out of Bogota airport to Hong Kong. The fins were the product of illegal fishing along the south west coast of the nation and it was calculated that up to one thousand sharks would have to have been killed to produce that amount of shark fins. Shark fins are seen as a delicacy in much of Asia meaning that the illegal trade in fins can be extremely lucrative. The Colombian police were carrying out enquiries to find out more information about the delivery destination of the fins to try and track down the intended recipient. Click here to read more on this story.

Damaging levels of drugs Glastonbury festival could be harming eels: Traces of drugs consumed by people attending Glastonbury festival could be harming aquatic life in the nearby River Whitelake, including critically endangered silver eels. The drugs, which include MDMA and cocaine, are entering the river as people urinate on the ground at the festival and the urine, which contains drug traces, eventually ends up in the river. It was found that in the weeks following Glastonbury MDMA was 104 times greater downstream of the festival and concentrations of cocaine was 40 times greater. While these levels of cocaine were not considered harmful to silver eels previous research has linked water with high levels of cocaine to hyperactivity and muscle damage in eels. The findings were published in the academic journal Environmental Research and widely reported in the mainstream media. Read more on the Guardian website by clicking here.

France again threatens to cut off Jersey’s power and UK exports over fishing row: Brexit-related fishing disputes between the UK and France have made the news this week. Earlier in the month, a French minister reiterated France’s threat to cut off the electricity supply to Jersey after a long-running row over fishing in the island’s waters escalated. Jersey has only approved twelve of the forty-seven applications from small French boats to fish in their waters, infuriating the French fishing industry. France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune claimed that this meant the UK had not implemented the Brexit deal which was agreed last year. He was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying “Enough already, we have an agreement negotiated by France, by Michel Barnier, and it should be applied 100 percent. It isn’t being … we defend our interests. We do it nicely, and diplomatically, but when that doesn’t work, we take measures … the United Kingdom depends on our energy supplies.” Jersey relies on a series of undersea cables from France to supply around ninety-five per cent of its electricity and the French have the ability to shut off this supply. However, going ahead with the threat would mark an extraordinary escalation in the fishing dispute and would have huge political and diplomatic ramifications for the French government. Ian Gost, Jersey’s external relations minister, said that they had taken a “reasonable” and “pragmatic” approach to the issue of fishing rights. Read more on this story on the Daily Mail website by clicking here. A few days later that France was threatening to block exports reaching the UK during the run-up to Christmas in another fishing-related dispute. Sky News said that French fishermen believe that they had been “deceived” by the Brexit fishing deal and were calling on the EU Commission to take “retaliatory measures” against Britain. Olivier Lepretre, president of the fishing committee for the Hauts-de-France region, was quoted by Sky News as saying: “As far as French fishermen in northern France are concerned, in the absence of any results, the blocking of the port of Calais and exports to the United Kingdom for the period leading up to Christmas is an option.” Only thirty-one of a potential seventy vessels from the region have been granted the right to fish in British water, a move which was described as “an unacceptable decision” by French fishermen. Brexit Minister Lord David Frost responded by saying: “We have been extremely generous and the French, focusing in on a small category of boats and claiming we have behaved unreasonably, I think is not really a fair reflection of the efforts we have made.” Read more on this story here.

Greenpeace’s attempt to stop trawling in the Dogger Bank ends in court: A Greenpeace project to prevent trawlers from operating in areas of the North Sea and the English Channel has ended up with the organisation being taken to court. Last year the Greenpeace began dropping huge boulders from their ship the Esperanza across the Dogger Bank in the North Sea and Offshore Brighton in the English Channel. Greenpeace stated that the boulders would prevent trawlers from operating in both areas, and in order to drum up publicity for their initiative, many of the boulders were emblazoned with the names of celebrities who support the initiative. This included actors Thandie Newton, Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry, musician Jarvis Cocker and celebrity chef and ocean campaigner Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall. The National Federation of Fisherman’s Organisations were furious at Greenpeace’s actions, calling the move “illegal” and stating that it risked the lives of fishermen. Greenpeace responded by rejecting these claims and stating the boulders were “absolutely necessary” and that they were doing the government’s job for them by protecting the area from trawling. They also added that that scientists had confirmed that the presence of the boulders would have a negligible impact on the health of the marine environment. However, it has now emerged that the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) has taken legal action against Greenpeace, accusing the organisation of depositing boulders without a licence. Many of the celebrities who have supported Greenpeace’s actions have written an open letter to George Eustice, the environment secretary, and asked him to stop the prosecuting from proceeding. Despite this, Greenpeace was set to appear at a preliminary hearing over the matter at Newcastle Crown Court this month. Click here to read more on this story.