Russian supertrawlers off Scottish coast rings alarm bells for UK marine life

The Kapitan Demidenko supertrawler
The Kapitan Demidenko supertrawler | Image: Marco Schoone

While the UK is in lockdown, a fleet of destructive supertrawlers has been spotted plundering fish from what is supposed to be protected UK waters

The 11 vessels, among the largest trawlers in the world, have spent “significant time” fishing in the Wyville-Thomson Ridge, a British special area of conservation, according to data analysed by Greenpeace.

The Baltiyskaya Kosa supertrawler
The Baltiyskaya Kosa supertrawler | Image: Gaga

All over the world, lockdown measures have forced many small scale, sustainable fishing boats to tie up at port, unable to work. Supertrawlers – vastly expensive and often backed by ‘dark money’ with organised crime and political links – have moved in to fill the void.

The intensity with which these vast ships fish is not compatible with a healthy ocean. They drag vast nets, up to one-mile long, in their wake hoovering up fish and other marine life and disturbing the entire water column.

Chris Thorne, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace UK,

Environmentalists condemned the destructive practices of supertrawlers and called on the UK government to better regulate their activities to protect marine life.

GPS data showing the path of one ship, the Arctica
GPS data shows the path of one ship, the Arctica | Image: Greenpeace

The Russian vessels are:

  • Kapitan NazinKarelia
  • Lira
  • Kapitan Demidenko
  • Boris Syromyatnikov
  • Kurshskaya Kosa
  • Yantarnyy
  • Kapitan Sulimov
  • Arctica
  • Baltiyskaya Kosa
  • Mekhanik S Agapo

Studies have shown high bycatch rates of dolphins in pelagic trawlers with dead dolphins washing up on beaches wherever supertrawlers go.

“These factory trawlers can stay at sea for weeks. They have nets with mouths that could swallow three jumbo jets. The problem is dolphins feed on these fish in midwater when they aggregate to spawn” said John Hourston, from the Blue Planet Society. “It’s just been a long stream of dolphin deaths, I have never seen anything quite like it.”

As Ocean Desk reported two weeks ago, EU-flagged ships are also raiding Scottish waters during lockdown. Three large fishing boats from Holland and two from France were tracked fishing off the coast of Scotland.

China and Russia are stripping the world’s oceans bare

Russia’s UK move comes as an “armada” of more than 100 Chinese fishing vessels are illegally plundering south Atlantic waters close to Argentina, where the coronavirus lockdown has weakened already fragile marine protections.

Greenpeace activists display an arrow that reads ‘Looters of the Oceans’ pointing to fishing vessels as part of a campaign to denounce destructive fishery activities in the Argentine Sea
Greenpeace activists display an arrow that reads ‘Looters of the Oceans’ pointing to fishing vessels as part of a campaign to denounce destructive fishery activities in the Argentine Sea.
Image: Greenpeace/AFP via Getty Images

The incursion of the ships appears to have been carried out by stealth. The vessels waited until nightfall, shut down satellite tracking systems in coordination and then moved into the squid-rich waters of Argentina’s exclusive economic zone, Greenpeace said.

By one estimate, the ships – each capable of taking 50 tonnes per day – could in less than three weeks exceed the Argentinian fleet’s quota for the entire season.

Full nets of a supertrawler
Full nets of a supertrawler| Image: Pierre Gleizes/Greenpeace

The waters off West Africa are also being plundered by industrial vessels from Russia and China, and other ships operating under “flags of convenience” that allow them to skirt costs and regulations. Such ships can take hundreds of tons of fish in each haul, and inflict lasting damage on the marine environment and destroying the local economy and food supply.

“Trawlers catch all the fish available regardless of protected species or safety standards,” says Abdou Karim Sall, President of the Platform of Senegalese Artisanal Fishermen (PAPAS). “These big vessels hold heavy nets that destroy the ocean and the marine habitat but especially nurseries for juveniles, which prevents the fish from reproducing.”

Ocean Desk Top Ten (title graphic)

10 facts about super trawlers…

  1. Most fishing boats are less than 25 metres long, super trawlers can be over 144 metres long. The biggest super trawlers can have nets large enough to hold 13 jumbo jets.

2. Super trawlers catch more than just fish. Dolphins, seals, turtles and sea birds are all at risk as by-catch in vast nets.

3. Super trawlers were banned from West Africa after local fish populations plummeted.

4. The global industrial fishing fleet is 2-3 times too big for the world’s fish stocks to sustain.

5. FV Margiris is the world’s second largest fishing boat, recently logged in the English channel fishing legally within a conservation zone. The vessel’s owners have been involved in three high profile illegal fishing cases in Europe, including the illegal dumping of 1.5 million kg of edible herring in order to make room in their freezer for higher value fish.

The FV Margiris supertrawler
The FV Margiris supertrawler | Image: PressMedia

6. Most UK fishing rights are currently in the hands of a few elite, 5 families, (all of whom can be found in the Times Rich List) own super trawlers and control 29% of the UK’s fishing quota.

7. More than half (13) of the top 25 quota holders have directors, shareholders, or vessel partners who were convicted of offences in Scotland’s £63m “black fish” scam – a huge, sophisticated fraud that saw trawlermen and fish processors working together to evade quota limits and land 170,000 tonnes of illegal fish.

8. With nets longer than a football pitch trawlers pick up huge amounts of illegal-sized fish. The nets are so large and packed with fish (and bycatch) there is no actual way to regulate the size of fish being trapped in the nets. In 2012, with a quarter of her catch illegal, super trawler Maarartje Theadora was fined €595,000.

9. Overfishing by large and destructive fishing fleets is the main reason why the world’s oceans and fish stocks are currently in such an alarming state.

10. Know your supertrawler

  • Annelies Ilena – 144m long, holds 7,000 tonnes of fish
  • Margiris – 142m long, holds 6,000 tonnes of fish
  • Cornelis Vrolijk Fzn – Holds 23% of English Fishing Quota
  • Franziska – 119m long, depleted Chilean Jack Mackerel in South Pacific between 2007 and 2010
  • Helen Mary – 116m long, captures endangered species e.g. hammerhead, sharks, giant rays and dolphins
  • Maarartje Theadora – Holds 6,000 tonnes of fish, ¼ of fish caught in 2012 was illegal
Ocean Desk Make Waves (title graphic)

What can I do about supertrawlers?

You could sign this petition to ban supertrawlers from UK waters:

Ban pelagic trawlers, attach pingers to all boats, stop slaughter of dolphins.


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