Tuesday, 28 July 2009

We must demand seal-safe farmed salmon

Updated 12 July 2015

In a poll sixty-four per cent of the UK public would be against farmed salmon if it involved the killing of seals. Despite this, salmon farmers in Scotland shoot hundreds of grey and harbour seals that are said to be a threat to salmon or the sea-cage net holding them.

Seal shot and killed in Orkney, Scotland.

Unofficially, many more seals are killed around the UK by people involved with commercial fishing and salmon farming that pose no danger whatsoever to the profitability of their businesses.

Even seals near RSPCA Assured salmon farms aren't safe. RSPCA-accredited farms account for a quarter of all seals shot in Scotland.

The UK has forty per cent of the world's population of grey seals (164,000) and 20,000 harbour seals, a population that has seen some drastic declines in recent years.

Seals are intelligent mammals that feed on fish, a bit like dolphins and porpoises, but in the mind of the UK seafood business that's where the similarity ends.

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 universally accepted that you make canned tuna as cetacean-friendly as possible.

If this can be achieved for a wild-caught pelagic species like tuna then why are we still having to slaughter seals in order to protect salmon that are being farmed in highly controlled sites?

We've learnt our lesson with dolphin-safe tuna, we must now demand seal-safe salmon.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

UK sea angling records tell a sorry tale

If you need proof that UK fish stocks have been in decline you need look no further than the British sea fish angling records.

These records give you little indication of the size of fish prior to large-scale commercial exploitation (archaeological records show that cod in medieval times could be several meters long), but for an insight into the current state of our marine environment it's enlightening.

If you take an average of the years in which the record fish were caught the heyday for sea angling in UK waters was roughly the mid-1980's, it's been pretty much downhill ever since.

The largest bass was caught in 1988, cod 1992, haddock 1978, halibut 1979, herring 1973, ling 1989, mackerel 1984, monkfish 1984, skate 1986 and plaice 1989 (Source: British Record Fish Committee). It would be surprising if any of these records were ever broken again. The oldest record still standing is from 1933; Atlantic bluefin tuna - they left UK waters when the North Sea herring fishery collapsed.

Whilst this can in no way be described as a scientific measurement of the health of UK seas, it's a sobering reminder of what we've lost beneath our surrounding seas.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Why is marine conservation so neglected?

There are hundreds of organisations in the UK devoted to the conservation of the land and its animals. Incredibly there is only one well known organisation entirely dedicated to protecting our marine environment, the Marine Conservation Society.

Despite the fact that the UK is an island which depends on the sea for it's survival (well the Gulf Stream at least) there are more organisations devoted to saving bats than the animals that live below our chilly waters.

Even though some progress has been made most people still regard the sea and the animals in it as nothing more than a exploitable resource. Marine mammals and some reptiles are afforded legal protection, but almost unbelievably, hardly any native marine fish species (including the great white shark should it ever visit us) are protected by law.

Ten percent of the UK landmass is protected but less than one percent of our entire surrounding seas. Our first national park was created in 1951 but it was only 2003 when the tiny Lundy Island Marine Reserve received a no-take zone status.

National newspapers that wouldn't dream of publishing a picture of a man with a gun standing next to a shot lion will still publish pictures of endangered sharks like the thresher and mako killed by so-called sports fishermen for no other reason than an ego trip.

Perhaps what the marine conservation movement needs is a 'Born Free' for our generation, 'An Inconvenient Truth' for our marine environment? The documentary 'The End of the Line', based on the fish loving visionary Charles Clover's book of the same name is attempting this feat, and god knows our marine animals currently need all the help they can get.