Here are the latest chapters in two salty stories: polyisobutene pollution in the English Channel and reform of the Common Fisheries Policy...

Yesterday, I shared on my blog a statement about the nasty, sticky substance polyisobutene (aka PIB), to be read at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)’s current meeting of its environmental subcommittee. Due to delays in the agenda, the statement was delivered this morning. It will be formally included in full in the record of the meeting, which is an important first step in getting the status of this material reviewed, as well as bringing the recent PIB disaster to the attention of the full global maritime community.

In response, the UK Government highlighted work being done on the carriage of so-called “high-viscosity” substances, which would presumably include PIB, and highlight the need to wait until the results of the MCA’s investigations into the incidents are released.

Those responsible for releasing PIB into our seas must of course be identified and, if illegal, brought to justice. However, regardless of the eventual outcomes of MCA’s investigations, our view is clear: PIB should have no place in any quantity in our seas. This is why we joined forces with other NGOs and the UK shipping industry to call for an urgent review of PIB’s legal discharge status. If all PIB was removed at ports under strict controls, ships would have no legitimate reason to carry any PIB back out to sea.

There is no quick fix here.  It will take time to achieve a formal review of PIB at international level, and a review does not guarantee an ultimate ban.  But we have made good progress in a short amount of time, and have the support of key players in the maritime industry. 

This week has also seen 36 hours of talks by European Fisheries Ministers, as they made crucial decisions about reform to the Common Fisheries Policy.  The UK’s Richard Benyon fought hard for the radical reform needed, but key aspects of the plan have been watered down.  The discard ban – already long overdue – has been rolled back yet another year and will not start until 2015, and Ministers voted not to close gaping loopholes which will allow some discarding to continue.

The CFP is in desperate need of reform on bycatch, not just to revive our dwindling fish stocks, but other marine life killed as bycatch too.  Today a new study has revealed that a staggering 400,000 seabirds are killed each year in gillnet fisheries.  This number exceeds the estimated toll of bird deaths documented in longline fisheries.  This is the first time the massive scale of this problem has been laid bare - making it clear that urgent action is needed to tackle it.

This is not quite the end of the road – each member state will take their counter-proposals back to the European Parliament and try and reach a compromise. But there is no guarantee that MEPs will back proposals, which will further extend the protracted negotiations, and threaten any chance of the much needed reforms in 2013. 

If you want updates on either of these salty sagas, watch this space or please do follow our excellent safeguard our sealife blog.

  • Hi Martin. I was looking at a tin of wild-caught salmon today, which was MSC certified. The accompanying blurb mentioned that seine and gillnet methods were used (at least by the company, don't know whether for salmon), which I hadn't heard of, so looked up. Interesting that you then mention gillnet fisheries in your post this evening. But bad news on the bycatch. Given the link, in the case of my salmon, with MSC, could MSC be involved with helping to find a solution (or perhaps are already)? E.g. incorporating good practice with gillnets (or banning if necessary) in to their certification criteria? Best wishes.