Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Is Shark Porn a Recent Fad?

Here's a great video recently published of a shark subject heavy conference occurred at the California Academy of Sciences. A number of speakers cover a variety of subjects from shark attacks, to the politics of protective legislation, to the role sharks play in coral reefs. You can see the video here on web conference channel FORA.tv.

One part of the conference that I found interesting was where Juliet Eilperin talks about the celebrated painting Watson and the Shark by John Singleton Copley. I am not going to add my own overview of the ins and outs of the painting as you can read a full breakdown of events here, but what is interesting is that the painting was commissioned by the victim himself, and helped him further his career as a politician. Watson became the Lord Mayor of London between 1796-97.

So, long before The Sun newspaper got to dream up such killer headlines as Der-Dum Der-Dum (come on Sun you can do better) when someone saw a basking shark off the Cornish coast, the modern artists of the day back in the 18th Century were already at it. The public loved it too, and the painting propelled Copley to wider recognition, particularly in the UK. Less can be said for Watson, whose political enemies regularly commented that a wooden head would have served him better than the wooden leg left him by the shark.

Disclaimer: Shark Porn, for those who don't know it, is a derogatory term used by the conservation movement to refer to the poor level of media coverage ascribed to the subject of sharks, usually resulting in poor quality coverage of shark attacks and high drama, rather than informative biology or conservation based documentary. It is not my attempt at using porn as a keyword to get more hits ;)

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


It just so happens he's probably one of the best marine science and conservation bloggers of today. This doubtless won't be the the only post written about this energetic young blogger and academic, as he is possibly quite close to winning $10,000 US in a blog voting contest that has got the shark world in a bit of excitement. It is almost crazy to think that a blog that heralds sharks as worthy beings on our planet would be so popular, something almost unthinkable just a few years ago, but such has been the momentum in the wider community to get people to love our sharks, and to consider the toothy carnivores as not just the domain of heavy metal loners sporting dodgy T-shirts, and misinformed film directors. (seriously, if you are over eight years old and wear a T-shirt like that, there IS something wrong with you).

So, here's a blog wishing shiffers good luck over the next few hours, I see there are a couple of competitors creeping up the ranks today (ooooh). Keep writing fun and engaging blogs David and I'm sure you will be successful for a long time to come. It is refreshing to see someone who doesn't have an ego so big they can't get out of bed due to the weight, and, well, by the looks of the shirts you wear, I don't think you have any ego at all :)

Friday, 4 November 2011

Giant Mantas in Peru

Migration is an eco-sexy word. You might be studying something altogether beautiful and inspiring in shape and form, but if you can say that is migrates as well, wow! That is really something. Think of those poor people studying elephants, they can only say that in the good old days before human population explosion and the great white hunter, that their subjects 'used to migrate'. Now elephant gurus have to deal with the fact that their subjects will most probably be retained behind the same piece of park boundary for all eternity, or at least until either a.) the elephant gets angry and breaks out, or b.) an angry poacher breaks in and the elephant gets shot. All joking aside, the best migrations are happening in the ocean, with many megafauna species migrating vast tracts of open ocean, in some cases such as certain whale species, the great white, the basking shark, these big guys can migrate half way around the planet. That is amazing! Whilst it might be considered that such a trait can render a species indelible in the public minds eye, migration also presents those charged with studying them a few problems. If it can be ascertained that saving a species in one country is beneficial, there are examples out there of real and very valuable conservation initiatives making changes on the legislative slate. However, if the species, so protected in once country, migrates, then it is only protected whilst it is within the boundaries of that country. Once it is outside, on the way to wherever it goes, it is as at risk as if never protected. The only real way to protect such migratory species are via international treaties such as CITES listing, or listing on a CMS appendicies as I beleive is going to happen with Manta birostris this month at the CMS COP in Bergen, Norway. With the mantas I am involved with in the Pacific, sits a perfect example. Protected in Ecuador since 2010 after an explosion in mobula take inspired a local reaction and pressure upon the government into prompt action, mantas are without protection in the neighbouring country of Peru. On a recent visit there, I saw first hand incidence of multiple mobula catches, and met face to face a fisherman that claims to be taking over 100 giant manta rays per season. The guy in the top image was out taxi driver on one day, who decided to buy a mobula wing for his lunch. Mobula and mantas all go for local trade within Peru, sold for a regional dish known as chinquirito. It is a type of dried ceviche dish of which ray wings are a sought after, primary ingredient. My aim for the next few years will be to see how I might help the local parties within Peru to bring about a change in attitude towards mantas and mobulas, so that these migratory species can continue their inspiring existence for many years to come.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Hummingbirds in flight

One of my favourite images from this year. It is a hummingbird about to arrive on a flower. They are very quick birds, zipping around so fast they are virtually impossible to capture in a photograph. The hummingbird society says of them "On the one hand, hummingbirds appear tiny and delicate: the average hummer weights only about 1/10 ounce (3-4 grams). Yet they are hardy and resilient: some species annually migrate as much as 3,000 miles each way." Want to join us to photograph hummingbirds in the wild? Look here.

Dive with Basking Sharks in the UK

We are having a good amount of interest in our basking shark trips for 2012. If you are interested, we have now extended the window of available trips between June and the end of August. This has come about from us lessening our work load on long haul projects and a preference for concentrating on European or UK destinations. Our basking shark trips are snorkel or freediving based although over the last year we have confirmed some excellent interaction with the local seal population and now offer scuba diving or freediving with these seals in crystal clear water as part of our itinerary. The location also has excellent macro opportunities with good populations of nudibranchs and other macro life.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Great Article about Great White Sharks

One of the greatest threats posing declining great white sharks is the threat from shark nets, used for bather protection. Every time there is a death from a great white attack, the issue comes to the fore within the affected communities, and around the world. This article by Chistopher Neff highlights the issues.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Blue Shark Diving in the Azores

Here are a handful of images from our trip to the Azores back in August. As expected, the Azores is a place of enormous potential for European divers as well as those from further afield. Although it has to be said that diving is still in its infancy in the region and operators should be chosen with care.

The Azores is a place that is bound to start growing in the diving community's imagination, with ample macro life and a whole host of pelagic species, not to mention one of the best places in the world for cetacean watching, and with the right paperwork - filming and photography of those cetaceans beyond compare.

The sharks diving on our trip was very nice indeed, with enough shark action to keep us busy for the entirety of the dive time. Blue sharks are bold, and come very close, checking out dome ports with regularity. Mako sharks are also to be seen, although this is still a part of the trip that remains a good chance rather than a guarantee.

If you are interested in joining us for a trip in 2012, please visit our travel site here.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Who? Pew? Barney, McGrew!!

Not Trumpton, but conservation. Who are the Pew Environment Group?

Whoever they are, the Pew Environment Group has once again (They were key to the success of the Palau Shark Sanctuary Too) been the prime mover in shark conservation having been the driving force behind the new declaration that the Marhsall Islands have created the world's biggest shark sanctuary covering over 750,000 Sq Miles. You can read the news as reported by the BBC here.

In contrast to WWF who have nearly three quarters of a million likes on facebook, Pew has only 98. They need more recognition for their work. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Paradise Lost?

We have drawn another manta season in Ecuador to a close. This year proved to be another incredible migration event, albeit after a late start, and whatever we lacked in action in July, the mantas certainly made up for it in huge numbers later on in the season. My team collected over 100 ID's in just two days in early august and the action did not slacken off at as the month wore on. The incredible experiences we had however were not without concern. We noted at high number of mantas with fishing gear trailing all over them and much of the gear had been stuck on the mantas for a long time. Some of the lengths of mono filament or braided lines were embedded deep into the flesh of the mantas and barnacles grew heavily on some of the trailing lengths. It is difficult to judge how much this affects the mantas, but it is bound to affect some of their ability to feed, to migrate, to reproduce. At the very worst, some of these injuries could be killing mantas as they get tangled up and eventually drown. Isla de la Plata is just one place along the Ecuadorean coast where this mass migration of mantas can be found. However it is the best place to see them as there is a distinct lack of diving services along the entire coast of this small country. As we get to know more of the people in the area, it becomes apparent that even with this spectacular event, Isla de la Plata is only a shadow of its former self. One elderly resident of the area recalls twenty years ago when shoals of hammerheads and other sharks could be seen along the reef systems that hug the edge of this deep water island. With our studies into this population revealing that they might well migrate into waters where there is a directed fishery for them, coupled with the damage caused by indiscriminate fishing methods, the question has to be: How long will it be before this population dwindles? Will the biggest aggregation of Manta birostris known, become a victim of fishing practices before it has a chance to be properly saved, like the hammerheads that have disappeared from the area years before?

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

A View To A Thrill

Posted originally today on my Save Our Seas Blog

Until August arrived the manta season had started fairly bleak. Mantas can be found in these waters normally from early June. For the first time since I had started my work here, I had managed to secure enough funding to be in the field from mid July, and my volunteers and I were keen to make the most of this initiative and we were set to collect data from much earlier in the season.
The mantas however had other plans. Puerto Lopez sits amongst a range of low slung mountains that rise up somewhere along the road between the large industrial port of Manta near the middle of the country’s coastline and Ecuador’s second city Guayaquil some three hours to the south. This atypical topography attracts a thick blanket of cloud to the area during the winter months of June though October, a result of warm humid air mixing with the cold air generated by the Humboldt current running up from the south. One precursor for the arrival of the manta population is a band of cool water that hangs in this coastal zone for those months, sitting a comfortable but hardly tropical 21 to 24 degrees Celsius. This year though, by some quirk of Oceanographic trend, the skies were blue, and the water temps were up a massive 4 to 5 degrees. This was a disaster for our early start and the mantas stayed well away. We saw one solitary manta in the middle of July on one of our remote cameras placed on a cleaning station, and nothing more.
It was not until the 4th of August when mantas started to show regularly, and even then they frustrated our ID efforts by staying well away from divers. Fleeting glimpses seemed to be the order of the day before we eventually got our first ID shot on the 16th of August, more than a month after we began our field work. I felt particularly sad for my first dedicated volunteers Juliet Lennon and Natasha Snowden who put in hours of hard graft and only Juliet got some fleeting glimpses of our distant giants before she left. It is at times like these when you realise how fortunate we are when the mantas do eventually come. It is not by pure luck that this migration event happens, but an apparent melding of oceanographic elements that combine to set up perfect conditions for their presence, and it is the study of these elements that this project aims to identify.

I am overjoyed to report that now the mantas have arrived sporting full colours. Over the last week we have had some incredible encounters and our surface observations have seen numbers of mantas on the surface way off into the distance, as well as excellent activity on the cleaning stations.
We have recorded some 67 identifications over the last couple of weeks, many of those in the last few days, and we are currently processing those through our database to see how many of them are brand new individuals. With only one repeat sighting recorded since we started our database, we expect this number to be high. The next couple of weeks seem very promising for new ID’s
In my next blog I will be able to publish up to date ID figures, and perhaps allude to further fascinating information on this exciting population.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


It is not diving with sharks per se that inspires me about the human/shark relationship. It is the men and women who have developed their bond with the ocean to such an extent that they can happily become a part of it. Only from the viewpoint of within can you truly understand any kind of environment or situation. Walk a mile in [my] shoes...

Not for these free spirits the tumultuous clank and spume of scuba equipment, as divers using such machinery, we do not so much enter the marine world, as try clumsily to take our world down with us...and is a rebreather really a step away from that notion, or closer to it?

This article in the LA Times explains...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

It's the Irish in them!

A shark that one of my groups sighted last week has been confirmed by the Irish Basking Shark Project as having been tagged on the 20th of April off the coast of Ireland. This is the first international re-sighting for that project for 2011.
The shark was sighted during difficult conditions. The week had been challenging with unseasonal brisk winds delivering a heavy swell, and a particularly inclement day at the beginning of the week had kept the food sources deep below the surface. Any shark sightings for the following three days had frustrated us buy showing only fleeting glimpses at numerous spots all around the coast of Coll.
Out of necessity, on day four, I sat atop the cairns of coll taking an unusual strategy for us of static coastal observations, with the chance that some of these fleeting glimpses develop into some prolonged feeding. I remember my teenage years spent angling, and know all too well that the number one law governing fish behaviour is sods law.
Only thirty minutes into my observation, this unmistakably large fin appeared on the surface very close to the coast, and continued to feed for a good 30 minutes within a tight pattern about the size of a football pitch.
Frustrating lack of phone signal meant that I could not let the boat know for about half an hour, and by the time they had headed south and turned about again, it was another hour before they got to the feeding area.

When the photographers got to the area, they could see that there was a very localised bloom of plankton, and also large numbers of lions mane jellyfish and also a lot of comb jellies. We have noticed that these two types of jellies seem to be present with feeding sharks and could be predating on the same types of plankton.
Alex Mustard was shooting some underwater shots for the 2020 Vision Project and managed to get a clear shot of the tag that was later confirmed with the Irish Basking Shark Project.

Such information is essential to understanding the lives of sharks and how we can best protect them. National legislation is only effective within that countries waters. Once the sharks leave sovereign waters, usually only a few miles from the coast, they can only be protected by international legislation, which is sparse, when it comes to sharks.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Shark Finners move from Costa Rica to Nicaragua..

The true scale of the shark finning problem peeked its head over the parapet this week with the news that efforts to prohibit shark finning operations from using Costa Rican docks has resulted, not in a reduction of shark finning activity, but the moving of docking operations into Nicaragua. The finners had used private docks in Costa Rica to land their catches, until authorities closed them down and forced them to use public docks, hence falling foul of regulation and the media. Now it seems the finning mafia are taking a stride ahead of the conservation movement by using docks in Nicaragua.

How do you stop water with a sieve? Read the full article here.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Of frogs and sharks...

...or how DNA research gives clues to the longevity of speciation and the subsequent effect in real terms of the loss of species.

Phew..after making that title I think I need to lie down. So, this article from Stony Brook University gives us an insight into a soon to be published paper in the jouirnal "Ecology Letters" which attempts to explain why it is that certain areas contain more species than others, despite having similar ecosystem characteristics; for example, some tropical rainforests outside of the Amazon basin have no more species than some sites in temperate North America. The reason for the high diversity in the Amazon is not due to the warm and humid conditions as we might expect, but the length of time that the species have been in the area, developing over an enormous time span greater than 50 million years. It seems the later in history that a colonisation occurs, the lower the species diversity will be in that region. Although this particular study used tree frogs as a study group, the report states that the findings could have implications for other species such as trees, birds and insects - and why indeed not for sharks?

This next report highlights the ability of DNA to pinpoint the home range of sharks when they are targetted and sold in the fin markets. By analysing DNA scientists have been able to identify a difference between sharks of the same species living along different continents. This allows the science and conservation community to identify shark fins sourced in world markets and identify whether these are being illegally sourced from protected regions.

There is a considerable link between the two articles. By trading strongly in low fecund species, we are not just risking the temporary absence of one or other type of shark, we are disturbing the development of species that has taken millions upon millions of years to occur. As we know, apex predators play a vital role in the trophic pyramid and so if we remove a key species, we are not just removing one organism from time, we are disturbing the building blocks of our most critical environment - the ocean. If that one building block took, let's say, 200 million years to develop, then how many blocks and mortar will fall around it, and how many millions of years of ecological constitution are we undoing? How serious, how long lasting, how never-mending will be the cascade?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The wildest trip in the UK?

This warm weather is making my feet itch. It feels like it is the middle of summer and I should be loading my car up and heading off to Scotland already for the basking sharks. I have to pinch myself to remind me that is only April...still, it's only a handful of weeks before we will be up that way once again, on the beautiful coast of Mull and her surrounding islands, seeking out our photo-quarry, the mighty basking shark.
This year could see us having possibly the wildest trip known to the uk tourist. We will be camping on some nights to make the most of the location, the atmosphere, the heavy salt air, the clean washed seaweed that will tackle our toes as we land, and to be nearer to those leviathan shadows that haunt the coastline. It will be the anti-live-aboard. The rejection of luxury in exchange for the embrace of raw adventure.
Fade wicked sun, and let me be back in April, where I can imagine such magnificent things are still a while away.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Enormous Thanks (Manta Fund Raiser)

Many Hands Make Light Work.

Last week, three marine conservation organisations came together to bring about a memorable night in the company of Martin Clunes to watch his documentary about the beauty of manta rays and also the threats that they face from increasing targetted activity from fishermen.
After the screening in stunning BluRay, Martin was interviewed by writer Tim Ecott. Mr Clunes was a superb laugh as we would all expect, and the mood was set for the ensuing raffle and Auction which raised an unexpectedly generous amount; a shade over eight thousand pounds.
It is often telling on all of our characters when we see daily, the negative impact of human activity on our oceans. On the night of the 24th March 2011 it was particularly encouraging to see the positive energy brought to the May Fair cinema to do something positive.
Bite Back, The Marine Megafauna Foundation and the Pacific Elasmobranch Foundation all greatly appreciate your support at this event and for our work.

We would like to especially thank: The May Fair Hotel, All of our sponsors who are all listed on the link below, as well as Jamie Watts who donated his beautiful marine life artwork, and of course, Martin Clunes and Tim Ecott for their valuable time on the night.

See the Thank You mailer Here

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

LIDS Stand 329

Come and see us at LIDS 2011. We will be on Stand 329 and will be offering show discount on some of our itineraries for 2011.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Full Moon

I am often fascinated by the moon and its effect on our oceans. It would seem that there is considerable influence by it over our manta rays, or at least an influence over the reasons why they come close to our sites...
Last night the moon as said to be larger that it has been for 20 years, some 14% larger and 30% brighter. Whatever the facts, it certainly was a magical moment being out there on a freezing cold downland taking these images.

Friday, 11 March 2011

I feel another post coming on...

I've been a bit quiet lately, formulating my thoughts about a variety of issues, but I am quite sure there is something decent about to pop out of my ear via my fingers...
In the meanwhile this is worthy of one minute of your time...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Basking Sharks 2011

We are running a deal up until the end of March with a 15% discount for all new customers. This offer is available on our Basking Shark, Blue Shark and Manta programs up until the close of show at the London International Dive Show where we will be present on stand No 329.
Our Basking shark charters run from mid June until mid July and we have very limited spaces. It takes part in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, and is populated by the most stunning wildlife the UK has to offer, in the air and on the land. Don't miss it.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

This Is My Home...

This is the place I learned to love the sea, the place where our island bleeds into the ocean that relentlessly batters this soft earth into an unwilling submission. The faces of the cliffs above slashed by trembling lines, the final bleeding traces of the land that sits atop. This raging sea betrays the silent, dispassionate blue sky of the first days of spring sweeping above. Both stretch uninterrupted to the horizon, and meld in their own infinity.

Here, on the frontline though, their separation I have never witnessed so distinct. The fringe between land and sea appears frazzled, the ground beneath my feet shudders as each wave pounds into the boulders beneath. The air is filled with the reek of seaweed; atomized, forced into the air by the treacherous force of each ragged howl.

The thunderous tumult of the roiling boulders, thrown about by deep water beyond is pierced by the desperate screech of the scattering foam as it rattles and scurries its way onto shore.
The land does not yield. Silently it sits in blank stoicism, ignoring the taciturn deeds of this harbinger in crystal raiment. Today the sea seems angry, like the chattering white caps are echoing the despair of all the people around the world concerned with its future, and like the rest of the world who care not, the blue sky looks down, unmoved.

This picture of the moon was taken on a fairly long hike back home after this incredible day. The elements were on full display, and this moon did not disappoint.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Corruption Wins in Costa Rica

The private docks that were recently closed for the purposes of landing sharks fin in Costa Rica have been re-opened again. The controversial docks that had been successfully closed after pressure from the international community's outrage at Costa Rica's stark ignorance of the finning trade happening on their doorstep.
Landing shark's fin is illegal in the government controlled docks, but until recently had gone on unchecked in privately owned docks, with the pro shark lobby considering it a considerable victory that this practice had been checked with their closure.
Not surprisingly the ban has been revoked and the authorities have bowed to the corruption that tends to rule the way of life of this region of Latin America.
This site has begun the intent to rally up support to get them closed again:
Please write the following to try to turn the tide again.

Judge Rosa Cortés Morales
Minister of Tourism Carlos Ricardo Benavides
Contact form for President Laura Chinchilla (for residents only) and a question form (for those without a cedula)
And, here is your letter:
Estoy disgustada con la anulación de la ley de INCOPESCA y la reapertura de los muelles privados en Puntarenas, llevada por la decisión del juez de la corte civil Rosa Cortés Morales.

La práctica del aleteo de tiburón es horrible, insostenible, cruel y va en contra de todo lo que representa un “verde” y amigable con el medio ambiente para Costa Rica.

Además, se garantizan consecuencias negativas para el turismo ecológico del país, especialmente a la luz del asalto físico en contra el famoso chef británico Gordon Ramsey, el cual ocurrió a principios de este año en los muelles privados en Puntarenas, y que será lanzado internacionalmente través de la televisión sindicada.

Esta nueva ley tendrá consecuencias devastadoras para el turismo de Costa Rica, le instamos CERRAR los muelles privados a las embarcaciones de aleteo de tiburón y poner fin a esta práctica horrible.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Martin Clunes Manta Fundraiser

Today sees the official launch of the Martin Clunes fund raising evening that will take place on the 24th March 2011 at The May Fair Hotel in London. Martin kindly offered to attend an event to raise funds for our research and so we can now proudly offer a night of cinema at The May Fair's private screening room for an exclusive viewing of Man to Manta.
I have built a site especially for the event and you can find more about it, as well as buy tickets at The Official Website.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Jim Abernathy - Shark Superhero!

It is not news at all that Jim Abernathy was recently bitten by a shark on one of his shark diving operations in the Bahamas. What is news, and what is incredible, in fact, I can't quite believe it myself, is that The Sun Newspaper has published an article that CELEBRATES SHARKS!! This is the paper that, at the site of anything vaguely fin shaped or toothy, heads straight for the JAWS headline. How many times have we seen "Jaws seen in etc.." headlines and cringed at those poor testosterone deprived journos at The Sun. Apparently it is the lack of being able to use the Jaws headline that leads the lads at the red top paper to create other such corkers as "STICK IT UP YOUR JUNTA" (Falklands war), "WHAM BAM! SAM CAM TO BE MAM" (UK Prime Minister's wife is pregnant" and "OBAMA LAMA DING DONG" (President Obama meets the Dalai Lama).
Watching from afar the events as they unfolded after Jim's accident, I was impressed by the way that the media was handled. The reports coming from the US channels were sobering accounts of how the real news on the agenda was the world decimation of sharks species through demand for sharks fin soup, and that the accidental bite to him was way down the agenda. If anyone knows how the media works, this was not something that happened by accident.
It is a great shame that the USA has a president and not a king or queen, because, in true Sun newspaper over-the-top fashion, I am going to say that Jim Abernathy should receive a nighthood for actually getting The Sun to print something positive about sharks.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Campaign makes a Splash?

I was wondering what the effectiveness of the Channel 4's Big Fish Fight has been so far? It looked pretty positive today when I went to a Morrison's Supermarket to buy some fish to do this image. I wanted to make a set of images that summed up the idea of how the campaign has made an impact on public opinion. Fish - Splash. I think this image is pretty close to what I was aiming for, so I'm pretty happy with the shoot.
Anyway, on arriving at the fish counter, pretty much all of the fish on sale was mackerel or dab!! So, looks like the manager of that shop was watching Hugh's shows, either that or the local populace are too scary to mess with, and a few complaints and opinions secured the ideal, and a break in the status quo.
I did get a strange look from the assistant who served me. Maybe the amounts of dab on display were a test, and I was the first one to buy..I presume there will be follow up research from the Big Fish Fight Team to find out such things.
So, I bought a dab and a mackerel, and after the shoot, my daughter and I ate the fish. A truly sustainable photo shoot.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Basking Sharks 2011

2011 is going to be Basking well fantastic. We have already filled two charters during June and are now moving into July for bookings. This is the, no, I mean THE! best basking shark trip in the whole of the U.K. Don't miss it. Book here.

Friday, 21 January 2011

A thought provoking article on fisheries.

The recent hullabaloo in the TV media over fisheries in the UK and other parts of the world have generated new discussions of how to achieve sustainability for certain threatened species, as well as resurrecting old arguments and possible solutions. The focus of the vehemence over fish stocks is often directed at the fishermen themselves, when it is plainly and painfully obvious that it is we, the consumers, who are ultimately to blame.
I made a tongue in cheek statement a couple of blogs ago about unemployed folk from the UK being sent out on barges to hand line for fish a-la-maldives, but this excellent article raises the bar on the sustainability question and asks whether there could be a legally binding designation for some fish to be classed as "recreational species".
This would see the capture of these species moved over to tightly regulated hand caught fisheries where profitable sustainability is the sole purpose, and the trawler men of yesterday gain employment from these new enterprises, as well as associated industries such as tourism.
The pro shark movement have in general been reluctant to embrace the angling lobby, and with plenty of images from around the world of anglers holding up dead sharks whilst flexing their muscles and oozing testosterone, who can blame them. But there is another type of angler that inhabits the other side of the fishing coin. These are true water craftsmen who have lived by water probably since they were children. They are almost permanently dressed in green or grey, and over 90% of them have beards. When they catch a fish, they handle it like it is a precious jewel, if they don't eat it, it is returned gently to the water. OK, I'm a little heavy on the stereotype, but these types of fishermen were the pioneers of careful and respectful water craft, and provided the backbone for much scientific knowledge of shark migration through tag and release, as well as possessing infinite knowledge of local ecosystems and population trends, and I would hazard a guess that they will always hold more knowledge of such things than your average marine biology graduate.
The question therefore is not "How shall we manage our trawlers?" but "When do we decommission the nets and begin to use rod and line?".

Monday, 17 January 2011

About F*&$ing Time!!

Gordon "Jeezus F@"$ing Chr!st" Ramsay aired his well promoted "Shark Bait" show last night on Channel 4. I've never really seen the point in getting that angry about how long it takes to boil an egg, or whatever else he swears about, but last night all his F'ing and blindings were well justified.
The show followed the shark fin trail from London's China Town through to a major fishing port in Taiwan and then on to Costa Rica. Despite some glaringly obvious staging on occasion, it has a been a long time coming getting major air time to the despicable and deeply disturbing trade of sharks fin.
The program really gets into its stride when Gordon visits Costa Rica and with the help of local conservationists, gets on board a small long lining vessel. The scenes are rightly gut wrenching, well done yet again Channel 4 for making a program that pushes us out of our comfort zone. If anyone managed to watch the large hammerhead get finned alive and not cry inside, then there is no hope.
However, it is programs like this, and Hugh's Fearnley's Fish Fight that give us all hope, that the tide is starting to turn to a wider audience. This, surely, is the beginning of a better day.
Credit must also be given to Hugh Fearnley's no bullshit approach to his quarry in his final Fish Fight show on Thursday. The way he bludgeoned the hapless salmon farm manager about his lack of knowledge on wild feed percentages was a delight to see, and holding a Tesco head honcho to ransom under threat of legal action for labelling breaches, well, I'm sure I was not the only one in the country punching the air.
Momentum has begun. I remember when I first got involved in shark conservation back in 2005 wondering how long would it take before shark finning and other important marine conservation issues became widely supported in the way that the Save the Whale campaign did back in the mid 70's. Whilst the movement is gaining pace as celebrities take up the cause, those key organisations should not be forgotten that have been working since way back when, to make this happen, namely the Shark Trust and Bite Back being the most prominent British orgs holding the torch. Support them, they need it!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Ecuador amongst nations named by NOAA as breaking fishing rules

From the Underwater Times:
NOAA today submitted a report to Congress identifying six nations – Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal, and Venezuela – whose fishing vessels engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2009 and/or 2010.

This opens the way for continued consultations between the U.S. government and each of the nations to encourage them to take action to stop IUU fishing by their vessels.

In this report, NOAA also announces that the six previously identified nations (China, France, Italy, Libya, Panama, and Tunisia) have addressed the instances of illegal fishing described by the United States in the 2009 report to Congress. These nations applied penalties to the vessels in question or adopted laws to strengthen control of their fishing fleets or both. Each has received a positive certification as a result of their actions.

The nations identified in today's report had fishing vessels that did not comply with measures agreed to under various international fishery management organizations, such as closed fishing seasons, vessel registry lists, and a ban on the use of driftnets. Other violations included illegal gear modifications, fishing without authorization, and possession of undersized bluefin tuna.

While Italy and Panama took corrective actions for illegal fishing identified in the 2009 report, other vessels from these countries still engaged in IUU fishing, which included illegal use of driftnets and fishing in an area when it was closed to purse seine nets.

If a nation fails to take appropriate action to address the instances of illegal fishing described in the report, that nation's vessels may be denied entry into U.S. ports and the President may prohibit imports of certain fish products from that nation or take other measures.

"We are encouraged that the nations identified in 2009 have taken significant actions to address illegal fishing by their vessels, and we are now reaching out to the six countries identified in today's report," said Russell Smith, NOAA deputy assistant secretary for international fisheries. "Illegal fishing must be stopped as it subjects our fishermen to unfair competition and undermines efforts to sustainably manage the valuable fish stocks around the world that so many communities depend on for food and jobs."

Annual global economic losses due to IUU fishing are estimated to be as high as $23 billion.

Today's decisions follow two years in which NOAA's Fisheries Service, working with the U.S. Department of State, conducted extensive outreach at bilateral and multilateral meetings to inform fishing nations of potential U.S. actions to combat IUU fishing. NOAA is addressing the problem of IUU fishing through the international provisions of the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act.

The act amends the High Seas Driftnet Moratorium Protection Act, which requires the United States to strengthen international fishery management organizations and address IUU fishing activities and the unintended catch, or bycatch, of protected living marine resources. Specifically, the Moratorium Protection Act requires the Secretary of Commerce to identify those foreign nations whose fishing vessels are engaged in IUU fishing, and what actions those nations have taken to end the practice.

Today's identifications of countries will be followed by consultations to urge these nations to adopt effective measures to combat IUU fishing. Following consultations, NOAA will formally certify whether each of the six nations have addressed the IUU fishing activities of their vessels.

The latest report to Congress also includes information on multilateral efforts to improve stewardship of international marine resources. To read the report, go to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/msa2007/intlprovisions.html

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Cod Blimey, Hugh Must Be Joking!!

Well, for some of us it has been a long time coming, but it looks like the wider media is embracing the considerably huge issues facing our oceans. Firstly I have to say what a great job Martin Clunes' team did of the Man to Manta documentary that aired last week. It is difficult to get a balance of something that is amenable to the layman, making something punchy and entertaining, as well as getting the more pertinent facts across in an accurate manner. No doubt writer Tim Ecott's involvement had a very positive impact on the overall production.
This week Channel Four is airing a number of programs by popular TV Chefs who had mostly been associated, at least by the pro ocean lobby, of being the source of all man-evil when it came to desirable fish recipes knocking a hole in our more exotic stocks. This time though, and no doubt a lot to do with campaigning by us conservationist folk, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay as well as some lesser know kitcheney types take on the behemoth of Fishery Sustainability. It is greatly heartening to see, as the uber trendy chef-meisters have been stuffing De rigueur recipes for endangered fish species down our throats like vol-au-vents into the truly bloated.
The leader of the campaign so far is the king of the cottage garden Sir (let's hope) Hugh. In the first program he took to the high seas with Scottish trawler men and witnessed first hand the ridiculous and wasteful practise of discards. Absurd and stupid have long been bywords associated with the EU cure-all response, the dreaded Quota system. In the eighties there were butter mountains, meat piles and milk lakes. Today's equivalent are fisheries discards, where each fish over that species' quota has to be thrown back to sea, very dead. Unfortunately trawling doesn't lend itself to selective capture and when the trawler men go about making their living catching species they do have quota for, the inevitable consequence is that the more abundant species that filled the quota levy first soon reach a high rate of discard. In the most mind boggling scene all the discards from a short two hour trawl are held in baskets before being thrown away. The fishermen add up that over the entire voyage they will throw away about £35,000 worth of fish. The annual tally for discards is said to reach as high as a million tonnes. The trouble is it is a mountain that no one can see. Until now.
The most welcome section of the program was when Hugh and Co decided to tackle the consumer end of the equation, the good old British fish and chip shop. It is true indeed that until demand for the at risk species wanes, there will always be a problem with sustainability. Hence Hugh's campaign to get more sustainable fish to replace the dearly loved Cod and Haddock. Enter the Mackerel Bap. It's an unfortunate word, Bap; somewhat comical, two parts smutty and one third ridiculous. I hereby request that the name of the Mackerel Bap be changed to Hugh Burgers.
Tonight's program dealt with the more spiny issue of Tuna. During a widespread and ongoing conservation war upon the consumers of Tuna, it was a welcome relief to see the program tackle this issue. Some great footage of highly damaging purse seiners was followed by some beautiful underwater footage of those friendly Maldivian Manta Rays (and Guy Stevens, again! Well done Guy) and other species at risk from damaging fishing practices. The issue of Fish Aggregation Devices was tackled as well as a superficial investigation into how bycatch ends up in the Tuna crop. We later get to see a clip of a Tesco offical denying what his distant fishing crew claim, that sharks, turtles and dolphins end up in the catch despite the supermarket's claims that they operate with their best conservation interests at heart.
The answer, it already seems plain, is not to avoid the target species, it is how the target species might be caught without damaging those that we must leave in the environment to reproduce. This is a fight that has been brewing in societal backwaters for some time and hopefully after this significant campaign on mainstream TV it is a fight that will come out in the open and rage on for long enough for something long lasting and positive.
When I was watching the team of pole and line fishermen on the barge in Mozambique hauling out their highly selective catch, I suddenly envisaged an answer to many a problem. We could send all ASBO holders and the long term unemployed out on Scottish fishing vessels to catch Cod and Haddock on hand lines. Surely then the quotas would take a lot longer to fill and discards would be reduced to zero. No..that's too politically incorrect..isn't it?

Monday, 10 January 2011

Blue Shark Diving in the Azores

This is one of the most exciting opportunities I think will be happening anywhere in the Atlantic Ocean this summer. We are making an exclusive charter to the Azores during the first week of August to encounter Blue and Mako sharks. The Azores is known for its great viz and variety of species. Dare I say this is the European Galapagos?? Full details of the trip are available on our site here.

For an update on this trip, with images, please go here.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Man to Manta Airs Tonight.

Tonight (Thurs 6th Jan 9pm) on ITV 1 is the first airing of Martin Clunes' new wildlife documentary Man to Manta. Martin was in Ecuador to visit our manta project to learn about giant mantas and film me working in collaboration with Dr. Andrea Marshall. Other places visited in the film include Sri Lanka, the US and the Maldives. As well as unique footage of our giant mantas, and other mantas around the world, important attention is bought to the manta's plight as they are becoming increasingly targeted by fishing interests.
Martin has kindly offered to help us with a fund raising initiative and details of this will be forthcoming very soon as I am currently finalising details of the event with sharktastic marine conservationists Bite Back.