Monday, 20 January 2014

Wild stingray encounter marred by reef fish decline

Smooth stingray waits to be fed. Pic: Blue Planet Society

Australia's south west offers a little-known wildlife experience that's hard to beat. At Hamelin Bay near Augusta huge wild smooth stingrays and eagle rays regularly come to the beach to be hand-fed by eager visitors.

Possibly unique in Australia, this behaviour began in the 1950s and 1960s when commercial fishermen cleaned their catch offshore. Today a fish-cleaning table for recreational anglers provides a seemingly endless supply of offcuts for the visiting rays.


Eagle ray (nearest) and smooth stingray. Pic: Blue Planet Society

For the marine conservationist this creates a dilemma. Many reef fish species caught by the anglers are in steep decline, so in the process of having a once-in-a-lifetime experience you may also be indirectly contributing to the ruination of Australia's offshore reef ecosystems.


Discarded juvenile western blue groper head.  Pic: Blue Planet Society

The overfishing of large reef fish has caused stocks to crash worldwide, and recreational angling is a significant contributing factor. Many reef fish species are long-lived, slow-growing and only present in relatively small numbers. Even moderate fishing pressure can have a dire affect. Add to this the lack of sufficient marine protected areas, inadequate fish stock assessments, and the outlook for fish like the western blue groper is bleak.

Stingray taking food from the hand of a tourist. Pic: Blue Planet Society

The rays themselves, which generate significant tourist income, have absolutely no legal protection. In January 2011 two young fishermen speared and butchered a tailless stingray nicknamed 'stumpy' in front of horrified onlookers. A plan to offer the rays more protection was drawn up in 2006 but is still awaiting approval. This lack of legal protection combined with the decline of reef ecosystems due to overfishing may see the end of the visiting rays and the priceless wildlife experience that they provide.


Hamelin Bay with angler boat ramp. Pic: Blue Planet Society 

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Thousands rally against shark cull in Western Australia

Cottesloe beach. Pic: Blue Planet Society















Upwards of 4,000 people gathered on Cottesloe Beach, Perth, Australia today to rally against the upcoming cull of sharks by the Western Australian government. Similar events were held all over the country including New South Wales and Queensland, both of which have been culling sharks for decades.

Passionate speeches were made by representatives of West Australians for Shark Conservation, Conservation Council of WA, Sea Shepherd Australia, WA Greens, and the Australian Labor party.

Speakers emphasised that proper research is woefully lacking, the cull will damage the marine ecosystem and the indiscriminate killing of sharks and associated bycatch was a poorly considered, knee-jerk reaction by the WA government. Similar shark culls have been tried elsewhere in the world and failed to reduce shark-related fatalities.

Public awareness of shark conservation is making great strides - a gathering like this would have been unheard even 20 years ago - but as the politicians in the WA government are proving, there's still a long way to go.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Supersized plunder: Parlevliet & Van der Plas's fishing fleet

Fishing Vessel Annelies Ilena, one of the world's biggest supertrawlers, has been detained by the Irish navy over suspected illegal fishing off the coast of Ireland. 

But who exactly owns the Annelies Ilena, and how many more of their supersized fishing vessels are there out there?  

Pelagic trawler company Parlevliet & Van der Plas was founded in 1949 by Dirk Parlevliet and the brothers Dirk and Jan van der Plas. The ultimate owner of the group is PP Groep Katwijk BV, based in Valkenburg, the Netherlands. 

The company's fishing fleet consists of 13 freezer-trawlers (including the Annelies Ilena) operated by a range of subsidiaries based in the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway and Lithuania. The total catch of the group as a whole is estimated at 300,000 tonnes in 2008. (Source: Greenpeace).

Parlevliet & Van der Plas is currently endorsed by the MSC Ecolabel.
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Parlevliet & Van der Plas's fishing fleet














FV Annie Hillina
















FV Dirk Diederik















FV Annelies Ilena















FV Margiris
















FV Nida

















FV Jan Maria
















FV Maartje Theadora
















FV Helen Mary

















FV Gerda Maria













FV Arctic Warrior
















FV Marbella

















FV Farnella
















FV Atlantic Peace

Further information



Tuesday, 7 May 2013

100% bycatch-free fish?

Pygmy killer whale longline bycatch















Updated Wed 9 Oct 2013

In a four-year study, weekly records of prices of nearly 100 different frozen fillets of cod, haddock and Alaska pollock were collated for seven UK supermarkets. The most striking result from the analysis is that line-caught fish achieved a price premium of some twenty-two percent.
“The fact that the chains choose to label products with ‘line-caught’ is probably related to the fact that the capture method is perceived to be more gentle on the seabed and thus fits well into chain's endeavours by acting responsibly”, says Geir Sogn-Grundvåg, senior scientist at Nofima, who carried out the study.
However, the label 'line-caught' can be deceptive. Fish caught on handlines by artisanal fishermen is relatively environmentally friendly, whereas industrial longline fishing is hugely destructive with regular bycatch of cetaceans, seabirds, turtles, sharks and other vulnerable marine life.
If the fish buying public are prepared to pay nearly a quarter more for fish harvested by less destructive methods, then there is almost certainly a lucrative market for fish labelled '100% bycatch-free', and caught without harming non-target marine wildlife at all.

Whale shark bycatch

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Secret slaughter of Europe's harbour porpoises


















The harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) has the misfortune to live in some of the most heavily fished waters on earth. Thousands of these little cetaceans are killed by the fishing industry every year and numbers have declined dramatically. Dolphins grab the headlines, whilst the mass slaughter of porpoises goes almost unnoticed.

Marine mammal bycatch in commercial fishing is a secretive subject. But if you do a bit of digging, what little information that is available is truly horrific. 

The IUCN lists the harbour porpoise as 'Least Concern', but this classification is based on woefully inadequate information. 

Under 'Threats' the IUCN says this about the harbour porpoise -

"Today, the most significant threat in most areas is incidental catches in fishing gear, primarily gill nets. Incidental mortality in fishing gear is likely to occur throughout the range of the species, but substantial incidental takes have been documented (summarized in Donovan and Bjørge 1995) for the Gulf of Maine (1,200-2,900/year), Bay of Fundy (80-400/year), West Greenland (1,400/year), North Sea (4,600/year) Celtic Shelf (1,500/year), and also off central California during the 1980s and 1990s (tens to hundreds per year; Barlow and Hanan 1995). More recent monitoring programs of Danish set-net fisheries in the North Sea revealed an average of 5,591 porpoises taken annually in the period 1987-2001 (Vinther and Larsen 2002). However, most North Sea gillnet fisheries were not monitored for marine mammal bycatch (ICES 2002)"

The last sentence is crucial here "most gillnet fisheries were not monitored for marine mammal bycatch"This makes the IUCN listing almost worthless. As the IUCN itself touches on, gillnet fishing is one of the most destructive forms of commercial fishing and the most likely to incur marine mammal bycatch.

An International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) report that studied two Norwegian gillnet fisheries found that the estimated total number of porpoises caught as bycatch in Norwegian gillnet fisheries in the period 2006-08 to be nearly 21,000 animals (Or approximately 3,500 porpoises per fishery).

The report also says that "according to the criteria advised by ASCOBANS (bycatches should not exceed 1.7% of the best population estimate), a population in excess of 400,000 is required to sustain an annual bycatch of 6,900 porpoises".

And here's where the problem lies. According to the IUCN "in the waters of the European Atlantic, abundance in 2005 was estimated at 385,600 [CV=0.20] (P.S. Hammond pers. comm.), of which about 335,000 [CV=0.21] were estimated in the North Sea and adjacent waters, where abundance was estimated at 341,000 [CV=0.14] in 1994 (Hammond et al. 2002)".

On this basis, the porpoise bycatch in Norwegian gillnet fisheries alone is unsustainable. Add to this all the other European fisheries that have significant porpoise bycatch, and the long-term outlook for the harbour porpoise is dire to say the least.

The IUCN is the benchmark by which environmentalists gauge their response to what is needed to help to protect animals which are threatened and accuracy is essential to implement effective conservation measures. More accurate information on marine mammal bycatch is available from fishermen, but at what cost to the reputation of the commercial fishing industry? It seems that when it comes to marine mammals, and the harbour porpoise especially, the conservation world is turning a blind-eye to the most horrendous slaughter.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Highly endangered sharks and sport fishing competitions


Rules are rules, no matter how endangered the species is, according to some American sport fishing competitions.

The scalloped hammerhead shark (pictured) which recently won the biggest shark prize at the 2012 White Marlin Open, is listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Species. Numbers have declined by 98% in the last 30 years, but amazingly still no laws were broken.


This is because, although under review, the scalloped hammerhead shark is still listed by US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as an Authorised species for recreational fishing (see NOAA 2012 Recreational Compliance Guide).


A selfish minority are sticking rigidly to rules set by a ponderously slow governmental organisation, whilst conveniently ignoring international guidelines and the plight of a highly endangered species.


Sport fishing rodeos should have to take into account all the evidence when they set the rules for their competitions, and if it is plainly obvious that a species is in deep trouble, the responsible action would be to disallow that species from the competition.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Future ocean


















If you had travelled the world in 1812 the natural wonders seen on earth would be jaw-dropping. Plains full of grazing animals and attendant predators, huge forests covering much of the land and a sky full of birds. Wildlife in such abundance that it is hard to imagine now.

Over the next two centuries human encroachment chopped down the forests, ploughed up the plains and hunted the animals to a fraction of their pristine numbers. Some animals thrived under these new conditions, but 95% did not.

At the beginning of the 20th century, shortly before destruction was absolute, some enlightened people decided to act and national parks like Kruger, Yellowstone, and Etosha were formed.

Unless we learn from our terrestrial mistakes, what happened on the land can give us an accurate glimpse of what is in store for the world's ocean.

Ultimately we will deplete the vast majority of the ocean through overfishing, leaving only small pockets of biodiversity - effectively the national parks of the sea. Farmed animals will replace wildlife, with aquaculture cages ringing our coasts and filling the open-ocean in their thousands. Wind farms and tidal generators will festoon the waters that once teemed with life, whilst new technology and ice-free conditions will open up once inaccessible regions to the mining, energy and shipping industries.

It isn't too late though. We still have an opportunity to do for the ocean what we failed to do for the land - protect the ecosystem holistically. There is still enough marine life left to repopulate the entire ocean, but the protection must be interconnected. This is where we failed so miserably on land by creating small, isolated nature reserves that are more akin to zoos than places where nature can thrive.

If we protect 30% or more of the world's ocean from all destructive activity now, with a network of carefully chosen marine reserves, the resultant proliferation of marine life could allow for enough sustainable exploitation to feed a rapidly growing human population. But if we act too slowly, or do not do enough, the future ocean may become as devoid of biodiversity as the vast majority of the land has become. 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The media and shark slaughter


Effective shark protection hinges on changing the public perception of sharks, and judging by recent media reports there is still a very long way to go. Some might even say that we haven't moved forward a jot since the bad old days of the 1970's.

Two recent media articles covering the slaughter of a large, female short-fin mako shark (pictured) by leading American news outlets is particularly depressing for shark lovers.

Msnbc.com covered the story with the opening line "A monster of the sea was killed and brought in to Marina del Rey – a shark so heavy that it damaged the brand-new scale at the dock." Full story here.

The LA Times wasn't much better, but seemed reluctant to use the word shark "The fish was so big, it was too heavy for the scales. It was so big, in fact, that it couldn't be hauled aboard the boat and had to be dragged into the dock by the tail." Full story here.

What is most worrying is not just the way these leading news outlets glorify the killing of these increasingly rare animals, but that they can't even be bothered to temper their blood-lust by mentioning that sharks are in dire trouble worldwide.

MSNBC and The LA Times should really know better. It's long overdue for the media to take some responsibility for shark slaughter, after all, how many people may be inspired to kill a shark after reading such sensationalist rubbish? 

Public outcry would prevent the publication of an article like this about the unnecessary killing of a land animal, and it's time for the media to give sharks equal respect. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

World Oceans Day: Celebration or wake?



Happy World Oceans Day 2012. A day to celebrate the wonder of our amazing blue planet. But can we still celebrate? Just, maybe, but the world's ocean is in a perilous state.

The ocean is dying. This is not some scare story, or exaggeration. We have pushed the marine environment to the brink through overfishing, pollution and acidification. It is not yet too late to stop the rot, but it will be soon. If we do not protect a significant proportion of the world's ocean from all types of damaging activity right now, over seventy percent of the planet may become a biological desert.

Some people have been warning of this crisis for years, but few have listened. If the oceans are to have any hope at all, it is time we all started listening. If we don't, in 20-30 years or so, World Oceans Day may be held as a wake.

We all need to start caring more about the world's ocean and the life it contains. But sometimes we need a little inspiration. To follow are the views of some inspirational people.


"Imagine what people would say if a band of hunters strung a mile of net between two immense all-terrain vehicles and dragged it at speed across the plains of Africa. This fantastical assemblage, like something from a Mad Max movie, would scoop up everything in its way: predators such as lions and cheetahs, lumbering endangered herbivores such as rhinos and elephants, herds of impala and wildebeest, family groups of warthogs and wild dogs. Pregnant females would be swept up and carried along, with only the smallest juveniles able to wriggle through the mesh. Picture how the net is constructed, with a huge metal roller attached to the leading edge. This rolling beam smashes and flattens obstructions, flushing creatures into the approaching filaments. The effect of dragging a huge iron bar across the savannah is to break off every outcrop and uproot every tree, bush, and flowering plant, stirring columns of birds into the air. Left behind is a strangely bedraggled landscape resembling a harrowed field. The industrial hunter gatherers now stop to examine the tangled mess of writhing or dead creatures behind them. There are no markets for about a third of the animals they have caught because they don’t taste good, or because they are simply too small or too squashed. This pile of corpses is dumped on the plain to be consumed by scavengers." Charles Clover, Author, The End of the Line


"The fisheries as a global system have expanded in space. We can compute the expansion rate, and see that it’s coming to an end because there’s no more space to expand into. The expectation that there will always be more fish for us to eat cannot be met. Basically, we have this concept from before that we can expand, we can do more, that the growth can be sustainable—and it’s simply not true. We cannot expand our population and expect that we can produce the food that everybody needs. We cannot expect to increase our consumption of fish and expect that there will be fish for everybody. In the case of fisheries we have overshot already. People think this model can be resolved by eating the right fish, but in this concept there is no right fish: there’s too much fishing of everything." Dr. Daniel Pauly, Fisheries Scientist


"With species loss and food web collapse comes dangerous instability. The seas are undergoing ecological meltdown. Fishing is undermining itself by purging the oceans of species on which it depends. But its influences is far more menacing than simply the regrettable self-destruction of an industry. The wholesale removal of marine life and obliteration of their habitats is stripping resilience from ocean ecosystems. Moreover, it is undermining the ability of the oceans to support human needs. Overfishing is destabilizing the marine environment, contributing to the spread of anoxic dead zones and the increasing prevalence of toxic algal blooms, for example. Nature's power to bounce back after catastrophes or absorb the battery of stresses humanity is subjecting it to is being eroded, collapsed fishery after collapsed fishery, species by species, place by place. It is easy to point fingers and say this is the fault of greedy corporations with their factory ships, or faint-hearted politicians overeager to please the fishing industry, or the great masses of poor people reduced to bombing and poisoning their seas to extract the last few fish. But blaming others is unhelpful. Every fish and meat eater shares responsibility for the losses, and only by working together can we restore the seas' bounty." Dr. Callum Roberts, Marine Conservation Biologist


"Ten percent of the big fish still remain. There are still some blue whales. There are still some krill in Antarctica. There are a few oysters in Chesapeake Bay. Half the coral reefs are still in pretty good shape, a jeweled belt around the middle of the planet. There's still time, but not a lot, to turn things around." Dr. Sylvia Earle, Oceanographer


"We're now in the midst of a third World War, but this time the enemy is ourselves, and the objective is to save the planet from ourselves. There's no hope for masses of humanity to do anything - they never have, they never will. All social change comes from the passion and intervention of individuals or small groups of individuals. Slavery wasn't ended by any government or any institution. Women got the right to vote not because of any government. The civil rights movement, the same thing. India with Mahatma Gandhi, South Africa with Nelson Mandela. Again, it's always individuals. You need those individuals with the passion and the energy to get involved. In fact, I don't know of any government or any institutions that are doing anything to solve any of these problems. All over the world, all I am seeing is individuals and non-government organizations that are passionately involved in protecting ecosystems and species." Capt. Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd


"Whatever you want to do in this world, it is achievable. The most important thing that I've found, that perhaps you could use, is be passionate and enthusiastic in the direction that you choose in life, and you'll be a winner." Steve Irwin, Conservationist

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Open your eyes to commercial fishing

After stripping the seas of life with impunity for decades, serious questions are now being asked of the industry that makes its living from exploiting marine wildlife.

For too long we've held a highly romanticised view of the fishing industry, one of bountiful seas and hardworking fishermen who risk all to put fish on our plate. Only now are we starting to glimpse the truth, a high-technology industry run by wealthy people systematically emptying the world's ocean for profit. That's just half of it, if we knew the full truth about what goes on beyond prying eyes there'd be an outcry.

All commercial fishing is destructive but three methods stick out as particularly damaging; bottom-trawling, purse-seining and longlining.

Most of us will never get a chance to view these methods first-hand, so here are three short videos to give you a flavour of what's happening to the world's ocean.

Bottom-trawling



Purse-seining



Long-lining

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Q&A: The Antarctic krill fishery




We ask Dimitri Sclabos, of Tharos Ltd., a world-leading krill consultancy, what the future holds for the Antarctic krill fishery?

Q: What aspect of the boom in commercial krill usage worries you most?

That the market demand pushes the catch effort above the ability to sustain a permanent at-sea and on-board inspection regime and a lack of minimum safety standards on fishing trawlers rushing to get in on the market.

Q: What affect will climate change have on krill in the Antarctic?

Climate change will affect phytoplankton growth and with it krill's food sustainability. Krill's habitat is a low temperature one, with sea water around 0°C, a rise in sea temperature will affect spawning, reproduction, egg mortality and growth etc.

Q: What is the biggest threat to Antarctic krill?

A lack of continuous at-sea research on biomass condition and a lack of industry support for on-board inspectors as specified by CCAMLR (Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources).

Q: What is most likely to be the biggest industrial use for krill?

Foods, lipids and proteins, will take the greatest share. However, feed applications also sustain several operations, either for feeds for aquaculture, or whole round frozen krill for sports bait.

Q: Does China have the technology for large-scale krill exploitation?

The Chinese have had fishing vessels trawling for krill since 2009/10, targeting whole round frozen krill, plus other end-products. Currently two Chinese operators have Government support to remain fishing, increase fishing efforts, and design new processing ideas. Their fishing effort will depend on their own internal market, so I would expect this to grow.

Q: What worries you most about China's desire to harvest krill?

a) The Chinese demand for krill end-products, which will require a much higher fishing effort, which means more and more trawlers.

b) The lack of on-board sanitary working practices, which will eventually lead to the pollution of nearby fishing areas.

c) The lack of Standard Operating Procedures that prevent contamination. 

d) The lack of support for CCAMLR on-board inspectors.

Q: How many boats could be harvesting krill at the maximum exploitation level?

It is not the number of trawlers we need to worry about, but rather the catch effort of each trawler. In the past each trawler could catch around 100-250 tons a day, current trawlers can catch around 400-600 tons a day, or as much as the on-board processing facility is able to process. On some trawlers it is a continuous pumping system.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

WWF and krill: conservation gone wrong






















Updated Thurs 21 Feb 2013

The Wikipedia entry for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) states that 'WWF is an international non-governmental organization working on issues regarding the conservation, research and restoration of the environment'.

No surprises there then, just as you imagined, WWF working hard to protect nature, wildlife and the environment. Commercial exploitation would be the last thing you'd think WWF would be involved with. And that's where you'd be wrong.

Since 2009 WWF Norway have been in partnership with Aker Biomarine, a Norwegian company that runs the largest krill fishery in the Antarctic. Aker Biomarine pays $178,000 annually for the privilege of putting the WWF logo on its products. In October 2012 WWF Australia signed a new partnership deal, this time with Australian fish and krill oil producer Blackmores. WWF have not yet disclosed how much this new partnership is worth.

Some might think that it is an oxymoron for a conservation organisation to be raising funds from entering into partnerships with companies that rely on the commercial exploitation of wild species to make their products. After all krill are a keystone species and numerous animals rely on them for food. There is also serious doubt about what the environmental impact a krill fishery would have in the Antarctic.

Even WWF are worried about krill.

In a report entitled 'Blue Whales - Under Threat' WWF stated that 'the problem of declining krill threatens most of the Antarctic food chain, but it is especially serious for the blue whales because there are so few of them'. Stuart Chapman of WWF goes further saying 'when you get this kind of warning shot that indicates something is going terribly wrong in the Antarctic, we need to sound the alarm.'

You'd expect consistency of communication from one of the world's largest conservation organisations, but WWF's apparent confusion over the krill issue is worrying. Either that or WWF are just mere opportunists who garner funds from leaping on the nearest bandwagon?

Krill exploitation is truly scraping the bottom of the barrel. It is the final frontier of marine exploitation, and a frontier that shouldn't be crossed. The Antarctic krill fishery is in its infancy and could still be nipped in the bud. WWF's endorsement not only encourages the expansion of the fishery, it lends respectability to the commercial exploitation of the whole Antarctic region.

If you think that WWF have made an error by endorsing the Antarctic krill fishery, please sign this petition.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Whale sharks disappearing before our eyes



After watching this video of a pregnant female whale shark caught recently in Pakistan, it will come as no surprise that whale sharks are in fact getting smaller.

Over a ten year period the average size recorded by observers has shrunk from 7m to 5m.

Whale sharks are caught for food and their fins in some Asian countries and Australian researchers suspect this is causing the decline.

The data comes from companies which run expeditions to watch whale sharks in Ningaloo Marine Park off the north-west coast of Australia.

Whale sharks do not reach sexual maturity until they're 6 or 7m long, so the signs are not encouraging.

More research on whale shark biology and worldwide protection is needed if the world's largest fish is to be saved from extinction.

Download the original report

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Ecological disaster as 300,000 farmed salmon lost?


Over 300,000 farmed salmon have been 'lost' by Meridian Salmon when 12 salmon cages broke loose in Shetland on Christmas Day.

A spokesman for Meridian said “It’s important to make a distinction between fish loss and fish escape. Over 300,000 adult Atlantic salmon were involved in the incident, but it remains unclear whether an escape of live farmed fish did occur or whether the fish died during the incident.”

Which means that there is a strong possibility that 300,000 farmed salmon are swimming about in the North Atlantic creating havoc in the marine ecosystem.

Why we need to be worried

When farmed salmon escape they can interact with wild salmon causing significant changes in the wild salmon stocks during ten salmon generations (about 40 years). In rivers with a high number of escaped farmed salmon it appears that the population is gradually dominated by the offspring of farmed and hybrids of salmon. Even after many decades without new escapes, it is possible that these populations will be dominated by descendants of escaped farmed fish.

Other consequences:

• Farmed fish have lower genetic variation than wild fish.

• Farmed fish hybridise with wild fish.

• The fitness of wild populations is reduced by immigration of farmed fish.

• Escaped farmed fish destroy, and compete with wild fish for spawning beds.

• The progeny of escaped farmed fish out-compete wild fish in the competition for resources in the river, both as fry and as parr.

• Farmed salmon increase the hybridisation between salmon and trout

• The size and fitness of the populations of salmon stocks will be reduced if the percentage of farmed salmon continues to be high.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Reef fish: worth more alive than dead


Despite the precarious state of our marine environment scuba diving is still one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Perhaps it is because the world's ocean is entering the end-phase of its existence that people are keen to experience a last glimpse of the underwater world.

Reef fish are some of the most sought after food fish in the world, but despite their high value as an eating fish, most are worth far more alive than dead.

People will be surprised to learn that threadfin bream (see photo) are the fish most commonly used to make Young's seafood sticks. Young's only feature a fork-tailed threadfin bream, but there are about 60 species found in the tropics, and each serve a different role in the ecosystem of a reef.

When you see a large shoal of small fish in a TV programme about tropical reefs, threadfin bream are more often than not the fish you are seeing. Without them the reef becomes a lifeless and barren desert.

The predators of the reef, the groupers, are also threatened. Coral trout and rock cod are two of the misleading names often given to groupers by fish retailers. These are the fish beloved of divers for their friendly nature and large size.

Manta rays, currently being decimated for the Chinese medicine market, are thought to be worth $1 million each over their lifetime as an attraction for divers.

Divers are some of the highest spending of all tourists and without reef fish the divers will not come.
The short-term gain from the commercial fishing of tropical and sub-tropical reefs is far outweighed by the money a healthy reef will provide in tourist revenue.

Governments must act now to give reef fish the same protection that is given to the animals in national parks. Tropical and sub-tropical reefs are the national parks of the sea and the marine life contained in them should be given the same protection.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Seal cull shames Scotland


1,340 grey and common seals may have been shot in Scotland to protect farmed salmon and wild salmon fisheries in 2011. The quota for 2012 is 1,100. It beggars belief that there has been so little outrage about this completely unnecessary slaughter.

The reason for this hugely damaging cull may lie in the Scottish psyche. Scotland has traditionally been reliant on the sea, and seals are classed as pests by many Scottish people. The relatively new £500 million farmed salmon industry is seen as a Scottish success story and the seals are a victim of an over-protective attitude to anybody who provides a job in remote areas.

This attitude is short-sighted to say the least. What should be realised is that 'nature tourism' is worth £1.4 billion to the Scottish economy annually, and seeing a seal will be top of the wish list of most visitors. The quickest way to see an end to this cull would be if the Scottish Government and people felt that tourism could be threatened by the killing of seals.

The crying shame is that this cull needn't take place. In 1990 the 'dolphin safe' label was introduced by the US Dept. of Commerce and has spread so successfully around the world that it is now almost universally accepted that you make canned tuna as cetacean friendly as possible. Salmon farming could just as easily do the same for seals.

Scotland has ample history to learn from. Seals are being culled for the same reason that made the wolf extinct in the 17th century (to protect livestock), and Scottish otters are still reeling from when they were killed in their thousands to protect wild salmon and trout. Thankfully otters have since received full protection and are recovering.

It is time to stop the cull. The seal is Scotland's largest wild predator and millions of people will pay good money to see them alive and in their natural environment. The reputation of Scotland is at stake here, and the current seal cull shames Scotland and the Scottish people.