The Politics of Sandeels

Conservation news


Back in January, the UK and Scottish governments made an announcement which to some extent slipped under the media radar. All things considered, and given a rather full news agenda at present, the permanent closure of the sandeel fisheries in Scottish water, and English waters of the North Sea from 1 April and further targeted restrictions on damaging bottom trawling, might not have made many front pages.

The reason for the decision has a great deal to do with the key role that sandeels play in sustaining wildlife populations in the North Sea, and particularly for us, one of our key species of concern - the harbour porpoise.

The UK government press release at the time said “Sandeels are a vital food source for some of our most vulnerable seabirds and marine mammals, such as the iconic puffin and harbour porpoise, and commercially important fish species such as haddock and whiting. This closure will bolster the resilience of these species and make space for nature to recover across our marine habitats.”

However the news wasn’t greeted with similar enthusiasm by the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO), who said it was “..more about grabbing headlines than genuinely contributing to marine resource management.”

In a future blog, we’ll spotlight the recent fantastic work by Oceana UK in drawing attention to the marine habitat and ecosystem devastation caused by bottom trawling (more here in the meantime if you cant wait

However its worth revisiting what the NFFO had to say at the time about this activity -

“The impact of most mobile fishing gear on the seabed is vastly less than the exaggerations peddled by those with little expertise and a vested interest in attacking fishermen.”

Abrasive rhetoric like this achieves nothing. ORCA’s vested interest is in protecting marine environments and the whales and dolphins that live there. We’ll call out whoever is putting that at risk. In this case, the government will introduce “..targeted restrictions on damaging bottom trawling..” for the simple, expert and scientifically-concluded reason that it is causing damage. That’s not an attack - its action in response to an evidenced threat and something everyone should feel concerned about.

Main image credit: Elfyn Pugh

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