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

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.