Ban fishing for sandeels in North Sea

EU prepares to ban fishing for sandeels in North Sea – Europe is expected to ban fishing for sandeels in the North Sea “within weeks” after surveys found an almost total absence of yearling fish.

The sandeel, a small, silvery fish that spends most of its life buried in the sand, is at the bottom of the marine food chain and part of the diet of cod, mackerel, porpoises and birds such as arctic terns and kittiwakes in the breeding season.

It has also been the basis of an “industrial” fishery in the North Sea that took about 750,000 million tons of sand-eels each year and pulped them for oil and meal used in salmon farms.

For the past three years, the Danish trawlers have failed to catch their quota, set this year at 300,000 tons, half of what it was a few years ago.

Surveys carried out for the European Union and Norway showed that sandeel numbers were just half the 300 billion fish that the European Commission said were needed for the fishery to continue.

According to Fishing News, Danish trawlers are said to have stopped fishing for sandeels already because the cost of fuel outweighs the amount that can be caught.

The European Commission’s scientific advisers have recommended the immediate closure of the fishery this year to protect the spawning stock. A commission spokesman said: “We are moving in that direction. A regulation is in place and it can be done very quickly.”

Scientists are blaming climate change for a shift in the marine ecosystem that began in the late 1980s, with the zooplankton that sandeels and cod feed upon appearing later in the year and being replaced by another species.

North Sea temperatures have risen by 1°C over the past 25 years, a huge change for a marine ecosystem, according to conservationists.

Euan Dunn, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: ”Climate change and the rise in North Sea temperatures may well be the major cause of the sandeel decline and if so, will take years to reverse.

“Because of that we need to make sure that other human action, notably fishing, doesn’t make things worse for sandeels and seabirds in the short term.”

Seabirds delayed their breeding this year, so what peak in sandeel emergence there was this summer would have passed by the time the chicks most needed the food.

Without sufficient sandeels, the birds can skip breeding altogether or arrive at nest sites late. If they do hatch chicks, parents can struggle to find enough sandeels to ensure their young survive.

Kittiwakes, arctic terns, guillemots and puffins are among the seabirds largely dependent on sandeels at this time of year.

Birds on Orkney, Shetland and at Bampton Cliffs, East Yorks, were among the worst affected last year.

Fishermen, however, have expressed concern about the likely switch to blue whiting, another fish used in fish oil and meal.

Norwegian scientists say that the stock of blue whiting is already 25-35 per cent down on previous years.

Helge Korsager, of United Fish Products in Aberdeen, said that the loss of blue whiting as well as sandeel could cause problems for the fish oil and meal industry that provides the food for salmon farms.

Scientists have found a new species in the North Sea, a marine worm that feeds on whale bones and is called Osedax mucofloris, literally the bone-eating snot-flower.

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

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