Supertrawlers target UK waters as the fishing industry struggles with Coronavirus

A trawler catching fish
Trawlers similar to the Lithuanian factory ship FV Margiris have been tracked in British waters | Image: Greenpeace/PA

Five supertrawlers are fishing British waters despite the coronavirus lockdown, threatening a UK industry already struggling to cope with the collapse in the seafood market

Three huge ships from Holland and two from France are being tracked fishing off the coast of Scotland where they are netting tonnes of fish.

The UK fishing industry, worth £989 million a year, is reliant heavily on exports, with 70 per cent of its annual catch destined for Europe and Asia.

The coronavirus crisis has hit the hospitality trade hard, in turn delivering a devastating blow to the worldwide sale of fish, particularly shellfish.

Fishing trawler
Fishing trawler | Image: Pierre Gleizes – Greenpeace

Chris Thorne, of Greenpeace UK, said: “With the vast majority of the UK’s local and more sustainable fishing fleet stuck at port, unable to work because of a collapse in demand, these destructive supertrawlers are still plundering fish in UK waters.”

The crisis has left the UK’s fishing communities high and dry, but in the meantime industrial fishing continues with business as usual

Jeremy Percy, director of NUFTA, which represents Britain’s under 10m fishing boats which make up 80 per cent of the UK fleet, said the British fishing industry already needs help from the government to cope with the collapse in trade in fish caused by the pandemic.

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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.

FV Margiris supertrawler
FV Margiris supertrawler

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

Overfishing – what you can do…

Make Positive Consumer Choices
Choosing sustainable fish helps protect fish stocks, here’s how you can help.

Buy seafood with this logo on the packet. The well-established Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification is used for wild fish. Their blue tick label indicates that a fish comes from sustainable waters, is not over-exploited and is not endangered.

Stocks of fish go up and down. Use the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Good Fish Guide iPhone and Android app to find out which fish are the most sustainable right now

RSPCA Assured replaces the RSPCA Freedom Food certification. The RSPCA welfare standards cover farmed fish like salmon and trout as well as cattle and other farm animals.

Choose those that are certified. Tuna labelling schemes aren’t as thorough though and while the Dolphin Safe – Earth Island Institute is the strictest dolphin-friendly labelling scheme it doesn’t ensure overall sustainability. Greenpeace regularly assesses the sourcing of all top brands in their Tuna League. Sainsbury’s came top of the 2011 league.

Tips for choosing sustainable fish
The big five – take care with the most common fish we buy in the UK:

  1. Cod
  2. Haddock
  3. Salmon
  4. Canned tuna
  5. Prawns.

Due to their popularity, there are sometimes problems with all these fish and you need to choose carefully. The MSC app helps greatly with this.

Try different fish. This will take the pressure off fish like cod and haddock and make the most of bycatch fish that often gets discarded. It’s good to spread the load of our fish eating onto many different types of fish, not just a few.

Check out alternatives to cod such as coley, pouting, pollock and pollack can all be used in many recipes in place of cod, such as fish pie, fish cakes or stews. Give prawns a rest and discover the delights of other sustainable seafood such as mussels, clams, oysters, cockles, crab and squid (calamari).

Go wild, not farmed. Fish farmed in big nets in the ocean pour tons of waste onto the seafood floor and spread disease to wild stocks. It is also an inefficient way to make food – requiring 6 pounds of wild caught animals to create 1 pound of salmon.

Ask your restaurant if the fish is sustainable, and what seafood they have on their menu that is sustainable. If they have none, choose another option. Just asking them will make them look into sustainable seafood. Your desire creates the economy.

Join a Campaign and Support Organisation

Here are some UK organisations working towards healthier oceans:
Marine Stewardship Council
Marine Conservation Society
Surfers Against Sewage
Great British Oceans
Blue Marine Foundation
National Lobster Hatchery


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