About Dr Magnus Johnson

Marine biologist based in hte Department of Biological and Marine Sciences. Eclectic interests around fisheries, biology, ecology and taxonomy of crustaceans and statistics. Member of the Scientific Diving Supervisory Committee. Advisor to Holderness Coast fishing Industry Group. Fellow of the Marine Biological Association. course director for the MSc in Environmental Change Management and Monitoring MSc at the University of Hull. Politically left of centre. All opinions expressed on these pages are my own.

Pandemic admissions – levelling up

My university is a mid-ranking institution with pockets of excellence that serves a range of students (in terms of BTEC and A-level results).  Both aspire to excellence overall of course but we are not Oxbridge. I am proud of the opportunities that we give students from low participation areas and our record in launching careers for many who may be the 1st to attend a university.  You can keep your ivory towers, I’m quite happy in my slightly shabby pedagogical bungalow.

The current pandemic has not been a leveller.  Working class and BAME citizens have been the hardest hit; either directly through contracting the virus or indirectly through effects on families and support networks.  The schools that many of our applicants attend may have excellent teachers but are generally less well resourced than those in more affluent areas.  Many students will not have had the capacity to engage in any digital learning provided towards the end of their courses in response to the pandemic.  Their teachers, looking for evidence of attitude may have judged that as apathy rather than poverty. Many of our applicants have to hold down significant part-time work while studying for their BTEC or A-levels.  If your mum has just lost her job and you are fortunate enough to still have a part-time role, your income that was once destined to pay for treats, may have become essential for covering bills.

Already disadvantaged by less well-resourced schooling in deprived areas (e.g. some 6th forms do not offer science subjects as they cannot afford it), from families that may not have the time to sit around discussing science, politics or society at dinner they have a sisyphean task to get into and then through HE. People who have not experienced the kind of poverty where your mum shouts at you for cutting the cheese too thickly, where you wear your father’s far too large cast-offs or where the potatoes you grow in your council house garden are more than a middle class affectation cannot understand this.

It is not fair to reinforce these disadvantages by reacting to the pandemic by hardwiring their economic deprivation into the flawed (as all models are) statistical algorithm that estimates what their results might have been.  We have a duty to recognise the potential of our applicants and nurture it rather than judge them by our societies failures and the gross inequalities around us.  We should not be distilling someone’s potential and future opportunities down to a 2-3 digit UCAS number or summary set of grades.

Let’s not pay too much attention to attainment levels this year.  Let’s look at the journey each applicant has made and think about what they might be able to achieve and contribute to society given sufficient support.  In fact, let’s not pay too much attention to exam results in general – they are a very narrow way to assess someone’s ability on a particular day.

Spectral responses from the dorsal organ of a juvenile Rimicaris exoculata from the TAG hydrothermal vent


Magnus L. Johnson, Peter M.J. Shelton, Peter J. Herring & Sue Gardner
First published in the BRIDGE Newsletter, Autumn, 1995 and later updated.


Previous attempts to characterise the visual capability of the dorsal organ of alvinocarid shrimps electrophysiologically have been confounded by both the damaging effects of submersible lights on the organ (see paper published after this one publication: Herring et al 1999) and the difficulty of carrying out even relatively simple electrophysiology at sea. It has been shown that, even in decapods from relatively shallow waters, light levels significantly greater than those normally experienced can result in the irreversible damage to decapod eyes (Loew, 1976; Meyer-Rochow, 1981; Nilsson & Lindstrom, 1983; Gaten, 1988). Here we report a successful attempt to record electroretinograms from a single specimen of R. exoculata.

In common with many other species of abyssal crustacea (Elofsson & Hallberg, 1977; Marshall, 1979), although they possess the remnants of ommatidial structure (Van Dover et al., 1989; M. Johnson pers.obs.) the eyes of R. exoculata lack dioptrics (Figure 1). As Land (1989) points out it is likely that such ‘naked retina’ type eyes are more than adequate for the perception of digital stimuli such as may be provided by the occasional bioluminescent flash and may even provide some sort of directionality. The resolution of such eyes will not approach that of the normal spherical superposition compound eyes found in decapods (Gaten & Shelton, 1993) since each individual photoreceptor will efficiently absorb light over a 24° solid angle (Land, 1989).
Figure 1: Schematic diagram of a standard shrimp eye and the dorsal organ of R. exoculata


In any eye, absolute sensitivity (probability of photon capture) is limited by the cross sectional area of photoreceptive pigment presented to the image (Goldsmith, 1990). In the usual spherical superposition eye, as found in pelagic and coastal shrimps, the attempt to form an image and the necessary geometry of the eye (Figure 1) limits the aperture and therefore the total cross sectional area of pigment presented. The absolute diameter of the eye is limited by obvious constraints imposed by the size of the shrimp and hydrodynamics. Within the superposition eye the thickness of the photoreceptor layer is limited by the diameter of the eye. If parallel light is to be guided to a few photoreceptors (for the purpose of image formation) the maximum outer diameter of the photoreceptive layer can be no more than around 1/2 that of the eye (Land, 1981).

In the naked retina type eye however , where all attempts at image formation have been abandoned, the constraints on the ‘aperture’ (effectively the whole eye to a perpendicular source) and area covered by the photoreceptive layer are much reduced. Van Dover et al (1989) found that R. exoculata had at least 2-7 times more visual pigment than is found in other marine crustacean eyes. If subjected to light from an antero-dorsal direction it is likely that almost the whole eye could be stimulated, rather than only a small group of photoreceptors as in species with the more usual compound eyes.

Van Dover et al. (1989) looked at the absorption spectrum of R. exoculata visual pigment and suggested that, although it peaks in the green part of the spectrum, it may have some sensitivity to far red (600-800 nm) light. Pelli & Chamberlain (1989) suggested that, theoretically, it may be possible for a shrimp with such a pigment to be responsive to small levels of 600 nm light generated as part of black body radiation given off by a hydrothermal plume. Van Dover et al (1989) assert that ‘the dominant physical features of the shrimps’ environment are plumes of water at 350°C’ and go on to suggest that these may serve as attractants to feeding areas.

The purpose of this report, and my participation in the BRAVEX ’94 cruise was to characterise the visual capability of the alvinocarid dorsal organ electrophysiologically.

Methods & Materials

In this study an attempt was made to get round the problem of blinding by the intense submersible lights using a novel design of light-tight shrimp trap . These were 15x15x30cm aluminium ‘lunch boxes’ with an entrance and light baffle at either end (Figure 2). The inside of the box was painted matt black to reduce internal reflection and traps were baited with partially decomposed and sterilised sardines (with tomato sauce) embedded in agar. Keeping the traps light tight meant that the size of the entrance holes was limited to 50mm. The knock on effect of this was to restrict water flow through the trap, limit the dispersal of the bait scent thereby reducing the capture efficiency of the trap. Also the limitations of basket space in the submersibles, logistical, navigational and topological considerations meant that the traps were not placed in optimal positions around the vent. From 5 deployments of various duration’s (2-10 days) at TAG (26°N, MAR) and Broken Spur (29°N, MAR) only two live juvenile R. exoculata were caught using this method (Figure 3). Attempts were also made to elicit responses from animals that had been captured in more conventional ways (i.e. where no attempt had been made to protect them from excess light).

Figure 2:  Light-tight shrimp trapRIM2


The animals were transferred from the trap to chilled seawater as quickly as possible and, apart from a very brief exposure to ambient laboratory light (finding and gently handling very small prawns in the dark is almost impossible!), handled under dim red light. They were dried and securely attached by the carapace with super glue to a mount on a micro-manipulator. Preparations were held in a small chamber of cool sea water so that the gills were submerged but the dorsal organ and anterior portion of the body was kept out of the water. Electrical and high frequency mechanical interference were reduced by locating the set-up in a portable Faraday cage supported on three wheel-chair inner tubes.

Figure 3: Rimicaris exoculata showing dorsal organ


Light was generated by a 75w xenon arc lamp (Oriel inc, Model 6000) and directed to the preparation via a quartz light guide after passing through a selected narrow pass band filter and neutral density wedge. Stimuli, at ten wavelengths, consisted of 0.1s bursts of isoquantal light (1.2 x 1020 photons m-2s-1) controlled by a programmable shutter supply connected to an Ealing Electronic Shutter (Model No. 22 8411). Responses were recorded via a simple platinum electrode coated in nail varnish as far as the tip (Outdoor Girl, No. 39 [Marshmallow], Max Factor) held in a Neurolog pre-amplifier headstage (NL 102G). This was mounted on a micro-manipulator and connected to a DC coupled pre-amplifier (NL 102) and AC-DC amplifier (NL 106). A small hole was made in the carapace and only the very tip of the electrode inserted into it. Responses and stimuli were recorded on a Macintosh classic II microcomputer via a MacLab/4. Preparations were sequentially subjected to stimuli of between 360-599 nm. In addition an attempt was made to elicit a response to a hand-held tungsten lamp filtered by a 600 nm wratten gel cut-on filter ( 1.8 x 1020 photons m-2s-1).


No response to light was found from any of the animals captured in conventional traps. Of the two juveniles captured in the light-tight shrimp trap, one died shortly after reaching the surface. Responses were successfully elicited from the other. The animal was tested at 10 wavelengths ranging from 350-600 nm and three experimental runs were obtained from this animal. The runs were fairly consistent each giving a response maximum at 500 nm (Figure 4). Between 350-600 nm the electrophysiological response properties of the eye are very similar to the absorption spectrum data of the visual pigment previously determined by Van Dover (1989). However when a red light from a hand held lamp was directed at the eye no response was recorded.

Figure 4 : Spectral efficiency of a juvenile R. exoculata (based on three experimental runs) compared with spectromorphometric curve of Van Dover et al .(1989)(smoothed line). Error bars are standard deviations.



In determining the spectral responses of a light sensitive organ, the ideal method involves obtaining a spectral sensitivity curve. This is especially true when there are several visual pigments. However, such a determination requires a V/Log I curve, preferably at each wavelength. In this case that was not possible because of the fragility of the specimen. A spectral efficiency curve which uses isoquantal flashes at each wavelength provides an alternative way of examining the spectral responses and is acceptable as long as there is a single visual pigment. This appears to be the case with R. exoculata.

The response pattern generated from a single juvenile specimen of R. exoculata appears to agree with the findings of Van Dover et al. (1989) and suggests that the dorsal organ has maximal sensitivity at around 500 nm. The lack of electrophysiological response of conventionally caught (i.e. not light protected) shrimp to light, and histological evidence (E.Gaten, pers.com.), would appear to confirm that the dorsal organ is susceptible to irreversible damage following exposure to intense lights from the submersible.

Why the animals have a peak sensitivity at around 500 nm is not clear. Aside from black body radiation, other potential sources of light include crystalloluminescence, luminescence associated with ionizing radiation, chemiluminescence, sonoluminescence and bioluminescence (LITE Workshop Participants, 1993). Many of these sources, particularly bioluminesence (Nicol, 1978), can have emission spectra congruent with the absorption spectrum of R. exoculata. The visual pigment characteristics of this species do not appear to differ markedly from those of other deep-sea species (Nicol, 1978; Frank & Case, 1988; M. Johnson, unpublished data). This is unlikely to be because of physiological or biochemical limitations, many species have evolved photopigments light of wavelengths longer than 500nm (Bowmaker, 1990; Cronin et al., 1993).

The idea that the organ may help the shrimp to locate active vents originates from suggestions that hydrothermal ‘plumes’ were at 350°C and that these could be perceived by a photopigment with a lmax of around 500 nm or more (Van Dover et al., 1989; Pelli & Chamberlain; 1989). However recent data suggest that 1 m above the vent orifice only about 2% of the plume is actually pure vent fluid, the rest is entrained sea water (R. James, pers. com.; Chin et al., 1994). Temperatures of 350°C could only be found within and in the immediate vicinity of the orifice. The shrimps don’t seem to be attracted to the actual plumes, rather they appear to congregate on the walls of active structures and in diffuse flow areas (M. Johnson, pers. obs.; Segonzac et al., 1994) where the temperature may range from 4-40°C (A. Schultz, pers. com.). It seems unlikely that a heat sensitive dorsal organ would be useful for the location of a such areas. Generally the reflective tapeta of shrimp eyes can be used to infer the likely direction from which stimuli of interest originate (Johnson et al., in prep.; Shelton et al., 1991). In the case of R. exoculata this would appear to be from above. Many other non-hydrothermal species of crustacea possess pseudosuperposition or ‘naked retina’ type eyes and generally they point in an antero-dorsal direction (Eloffson & Hallberg, 1977; Marshall, 1979; Land, 1989). It would seem most likely that the dorsal organ of R. exoculata is adapted for the perception of light dorsal to the shrimp of around 500 nm.

Physiological, behavioural and anatomical evidence suggests that many bentho-pelagic species are very sensitive to currents and chemical scent trails. It is thought that deep-sea fish and invertebrates swim across the prevailing current until they encounter a scent trail, they then swim upstream towards the source (Marshall, 1979; Gage & Tyler,1991). If fish and scavenging amphipods can locate small prey items by scent alone, how much easier would it be to locate a hydrothermal vent site?


Many thanks to Mr D. Jones for manufacturing the ‘light-tight-shrimp-traps’ at short notice. Also to the officers and crew of the Akademic Mstislav KeldyshDr E. Gaten, Rachel James, Dr C. Van Dover, Dr Cherry Walker, Dr M. Segonzac, and the BRAVEX ’94 scientific team. M.L. Johnson was supported by a NERC/CASE studentship (No. GT4/92/5/A).


BOWMAKER , J.K., 1990. Visual pigments of fishes. In The Visual System of Fish, Eds R.H. Douglas & M.B.A. Djamgoz, Chapman & Hall, London, pp81-107

CHIN, C. S., COALE, K. H., ELROD, V. A., JOHNSON, K. S., MASSOTH, G. J., AND BAKER, E. T., 1994. In-situ observations of dissolved iron and manganese in hydrothermal vent plumes in Juan-de-Fuca Ridge. J. Goephys. Res., 99, 4969-4984.

ELOFSSON, R., AND HALLBERG, E., 1977. Compound eyes of some deep-sea fiord mysid crustaceans. Acta zool. (Stockh.), 58, 169-177.

FRANK, T.M. & CASE, J.F., 1988. Visual spectral sensitivities of bioluminescent deep-sea crustaceans, Biol. Bull., 175, 261-273

GAGE, J. D., AND TYLER, P., 1992. Deep-sea Ecology: A Natural History of Organisms at the Deep-Sea Floor. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 503 pp.

GATEN, E., 1988. Light induced damage to the dioptric apparatus of Nephrops norvegicus (L.) and the quantitative assessment of the damage. Mar.Behav.Physiol., 13, 169- 183.

GATEN, E., AND SHELTON, P. M. J. S., 1993. Spatial resolution in benthic decapods, determined by electrophysiological measurement of acceptance angle. J.Physiol., 467, 371.

GOLDSMITH, T.H., 1990. Optimization, constraint, and history in the evolution of eyes. Quart. Rev. Biol., 65, 3, 281-322

HERRING, P.J, GATEN, E. & SHELTON P.M.J. (1999). Are vent shrimps blinded by science?, Nature, 398:116

LAND, M. F., 1981. Optics and vision in invertebrates. In: Autrum, H. (Editors), Handbook of sensory physiology. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York, VII/6B, pp. 471-492. LAND, M. F., 1989. The sight of deep wet heat. Nature, 337, 404.

LITE WORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS, 1993. Light in Thermal Environments, Workshop Report, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

LOEW, E. R., 1976. Light and photoreceptor degeneration in the Norway Lobster, Nephrops norvegicus L. Proc.R.Soc. London. B., 193, 31-44.

MARSHALL, N. B., 1979. Developments in Deep-Sea Biology: Blandford Press, Poole, 563 pp. MEYER-ROCHOW, V. B., 1981. The eye of Orechemene sp. cf. O. rossi, an amphipod living under the Ross Ice Shelf. Proc.R.Soc. London. B., 212, 93-111.

NICOL, J.A.C., 1978. Bioluminescence and Vision, In Bioluminesence in Action, ED. P.J. Herring, Academic Press, London, pp367-398.

NILSSON, H. L., AND LINDSTROM, M., 1983. Retinal damage and sensitivity loss of a light-sensitive crustacean compound eye (Cirolana borealis). J.exp.Biol., 107, 277- 292.

PELLI, D. G., AND CHAMBERLAIN, S. C., 1989. The visibility of 350°C black body radiation by the shrimp Rimicaris exoculata and man. Nature, 337, 460-461.

SEGONZAC, M., DE SAINT LAURENT, M., AND CASANOVA, B., 1994. L’enigme du comportement trophique des crevettes Alvinocarididae des sites hydrothermaux de la dorsale medio-atlantique. Cahiers de Biol.Mar., 34, 535-571.

SHELTON, P. M. J., GATEN, E., AND HERRING, P. J., 1992. Adaptations of tapeta in the eyes of mesopelagic shrimps to match the oceanic irradiance distribution. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. U.K., 72, 77-88.

VAN DOVER, C. L., SZUTS, E. Z., CHAMBERLAIN, S. C., AND CANN, J. R., 1989. A novel eye in the ‘eyeless’ shrimp from hydrothermal vents of the mid-Atlantic ridge. Nature, 337, 458-460.



Why should I pay for your university education?


This question has been raised often by folk that have not gone to university.  I’m answering the question because it was put to me directly over twitter by a fisherman.

The argument goes something like “If you want to spend £52 000 on getting a degree, fine but don’t ask me to pay for it as I see no benefit”.  However, I suggest that we can’t afford not to support general attendance at university for those who are capable or want to.  In my opinion we should be facilitating easy entrance to higher or further education using a variety of modes (distance learning, summer school, traditional degrees, module by modular qualification) so that people can access education throughout their lives in order to develop skills, feed their interests or change career direction.

I’d rather people didn’t have to pay fees at all – apart from the cultural benefits of having a more educated populace, the costs of university attendance are more than recouped by the taxpayer through the generally higher incomes paid folk working in graduate jobs. My arguments for accessible university with entrance based on ability run something like:

  1. Animals become adult as soon as they become reproductively active – they have all the skills they need at that point.  That used also to be true of Homo sapiens and women would have kids as early as 16 – 18, now most women have children at nearer 30 than 20.  This is because the world has become more complex and it takes longer to beome stable and financially secure and usually both partners need or want to establish careers.  Although there are other routes, for some careers a university degree gives most people a much better chance of achieving stability.
  2. If the general population can’t get into university on the basis of intellectual ability, rather than ability to pay we will forever be governed by fatuous privileged turds like Gove, Johnson and Reese-Mogg who can afford the best education.
  3. The UK is a rich nation and will prosper by developing/nurturing high-tech industries (which require graduates).  We can’t compete with developing nations in industries that require only cheap labour (unless we import that labour or drop our general living standards significantly).  Our workforce for the most part needs to be tech savvy, able to exchange and develop complex ideas and to be able to sort fact from fiction.
  4. Most of us only spend about 1/3 of our time at work.  Why shouldn’t a bus driver be trained as a philosopher, artist or naturalist so that they can contribute to our hidden economy?  University should not just be about churning out fodder for industry it should be encouraging people to think, enriching our culture and appreciating knowledge.  We are all on the “transferable skills” bandwagon but at the core of a degree is the topic, whether it be marine biology or English which is the primary motivator for academics and students.
  5. Poorly educated people vote for extremism (left or right).  An educated population will have more centrist, sensible political leanings and be able to deal with complex concepts.  Uneducated populations vote for personalities or according to simple metrics such as skin colour, tribe etc. or fall victim to simple (and often false) messages from politicians who are more interested in the power they can gain than the people they serve.
  6. Everyone should have one chance to reach for the stars.  If you go to university and do well it can be a life changing experience and make a huge difference to your future life chances – no matter what your background.  While not perfect (e.g. look at gender balance of professors – mostly male) universities are much more meritocratic than other spheres of life.

Applying to university? Advice from an admissions tutor.

I have recently taken over as the Biology admissions tutor at my institution.  It is a role I enjoy as I get to meet lots of young people keen on saving the world and proud/worried parents keen on seeing their kids do well.  It’s a bit like being the departmental goalkeeper though – if we recruit well it is obviously because of my fantastic colleagues, if we do badly it’s obviously going to be my fault.

It’s part of my role to stand up in front of an audience of potential students and parents of potential students and “sell” our courses on behalf of my colleagues and institution.  In the past this was easy.  I was part of a small Centre based on a rural campus with 8 teaching-focussed academics and 40 to 50-ish recruits a year, embarking on programmes that I had helped to develop and knew inside-out.


(The response of some academics to the brave new world of paid-for HE and what it means for universities)

Things have changed.  Now I’m part of a large School of Environmental Sciences with a much more complex (and exciting) offering to potential students.  I have to sell something I know less well in a School that is inhabited by a full range of academics including specialist teaching fellows and research professors.

The other thing that has changed is that each of our potential “clients” is looking at spending ~£27 000 in fees plus living costs in order to get a degree.  There is, rightfully, a lot of focus on what this means for graduates.  However there is a degree of pressure generated also on academics and institutions – we are, more than ever, expected to deliver.  When most of us went to university we had grants, housing benefit and could claim dole during the holidays.  We were definately not rich, but we had enough to get by and life was pretty good.  The attitude to university was, I think, different to that of today.  It was more about education and less about getting a career.  The pressure was pretty much on the student to get what they could out of university.  In effect the state paid students to get an education in return for which it was implicit that they would contribute to society – not necessarily financially.  Today students pay us to help them get a degree in return for which we owe them a decent level of service and, whatever their level of ability, need to try to make sure that they will get a return on their investment.

In my dealings with students and parents in the last year or so, two types of comment have been common. From students “I’m paying £27 000 for my degree”.  Note that the emphasis is often on the piece of paper as much as the education.  To many students the mark they achieve has become as or more important as what they learn.  And from parents comments around “I don’t care about your research profile, I want to know that you will be fully focussed on my daughter’s education” and “How likely are they to be to get a job as a marine biologist/ecologist/zoologist/biologist”.

It is more important than ever that prospective students and their parents spend time investigating the institutions that they are considering and they base their final decision on as much information as possible.  It’s also worth remembering that, should you make the wrong decision, you can usually swap universities to do a similar course at the end of your 1st year.

Ten things prospective students should consider when visiting a university:

  1. How much contact time do you get with academics during the course?
  2. Do you meet enthusiastic academics and undergraduates on open days or just paid  postgraduates?
  3. What transferrable and subject specific skills does the programme offer you?
  4. What are living costs going to be?
  5. Is there on-campus accommodation of a decent standard?
  6. Can you see student evaluations of modules offered by the department?
  7. What support is offered for SPLD?
  8. Are most academics in the department members of the Higher Education Academy?
  9. What’s the male:female staff ratio?
  10. What scholarships are there available based on need or merit?

David Davis: Beneath the avuncular mask a putrid core.

It’s not often that I feel physically sick when I hear something on Radio 4 but tonight David Davis (minister for estranging the UK from the EU) managed to do just that. Every now and again the Tory mask slips and we see that beneath the jolly and avuncular exterior lurks a putrid maggot-infested core.


It was on BBC 4’s any questions and he was attempting to smear Jeremy Corbyn as a terrorist sympathiser. So here was a senior member of the warmongering right wing Conservative party that promotes the sale of arms to extraordinarily corrupt regimes in the Middle East who themselves promote terrorism accusing Corbyn of being a terrorist sympathiser. This is the party that is content to see machine guns, sniper rifles and armoured fighting vehicles sold to states such as Syria under the classification of “crowd control”

Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly risked his reputation by talking to groups of people he doesn’t agree with in the interests of peace. He has publically stated that he would not press the button and it’s pretty clear he doesn’t support Trident – good for him. If someone does launch a nuclear attack at us we (innocent women, children, men) will be dead and I cannot for the life of me understand what would be gained by killing other innocent women, children and men in another country from where some mad despot has launched a nuclear strike. The ONLY answer is progressive nuclear disarmament.

For all his faults, and whether you like him or not, Jeremy Corbyn has been a lifelong pacifist who has sought to do good with the privilege that comes with being elected to the house of parliaments. To paraphrase the Beast of Bolsover “half of the tories are not crooks”, the rest appear to be lining their pockets by the sale of our infrastructure, water and NHS.

The Tories are trying to say that by agreeing with sentiments expressed by previous leaders of MI5 and MI6 and the foreign secretary, that involvement in overseas wars often leads to greater threats from terrorism at home, Corbyn is somehow a terrorist sympathiser.

That is, to quote another senior labour MP, “bollocks”.

Fisheries, the environment and offshore wind farms: Location, location, location.



The invisible industry

There is a general misconception that mare liberum (the Freedom of the Seas) applies in particular to fishers working in coastal waters. The common view is that access to the sea is homogenously distributed and all fishers can and do work anywhere and everywhere. So when a new structure or restriction is introduced to the coastal environment, people believe that fishermen can simply fish elsewhere. This view is not restricted to those that have a remote and often romantic view of the small boat rural fishing industry either. In a desk-based environmental impact assessment carried out prior to the installation of underground gas storage caverns on the Yorkshire coast the consultant remarked:

“No fishing takes place in this area, though one cannot discount some small scale exploitation” (a consultant cited in Hart & Johnson, 2005).

This observation was made in a region of the coast where there are numerous small inshore fishing boats and one of the biggest crab/lobster fisheries in Europe netting around £4 million a year for a community with few other industries. If the consultant had bothered to look carefully from just about any point along the coast he/she could have counted over 100 buoys, each attached to 20-30 creels on the sea bed. Fishing occurs everywhere along this coast. But it is transient and the degree of activity is not always immediately obvious, so it can be invisible to planners – unlike the physical structure of an oil rig or sewage outfall that can be marked on a chart.

Under-represented and misunderstood

Coastal, or inshore fishers work in a complex environment fraught with hazards, complex regulation, patchy distributions of their target species, exclusion zones and informal territories. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that the distance that an inshore fishing vessel can travel from their home port is limited by the speed, size and capacity of their vessels. The cumulative impacts of these factors on fishers are often poorly understood by those outside the industry. The regulators and proponents of coastal developments are comfortable in the be-suited, jargonistic and bureaucratic worlds of legal negotiation, planning legislation and public relations.

But it’s a world alien to most fishers, who as hunters earn their living by their wits, often at night and in harsh environmental conditions. They are typically highly independent individuals and naturally protective over their way of life. Unused to communicating their opinions and needs to institutions and the public, they do not always represent themselves very well in board rooms, and historically there has been no fishing equivalent of the “landed gentry” to argue their case in the upper circles of UK society. This is not an excuse to view them as “poor, backward, marginal and problematic, but as important contributors to the rural economy and potential focal points for market development in areas otherwise remote from the cash economy” (Hart & Johnson, 2005). A study of rural inshore fishers in Ireland demonstrated that one fisher at sea supports about 7 people ashore and that each fisher was worth an aggregated £34 000 per annum to the community (Meredith, 1999).

A rush to renewables

Offshore wind electricity generation is at the forefront of the UK’s drive to source 15% of energy supplies from renewables by 2020 (BERR, 2008). As renewables contributed only 1.5% to the UK’s energy demands in 2006 the scale of the task is substantial, and is leading to the designation of large areas of the sea for wind farm development. There has been a lack of precision with regard to how different stakeholders are involved in the process. The greatest challenge for developers is engaging with fishers at the local level who do not have someone in an office with the expertise, time and inclination to review the substantial documentation associated with marine development/construction projects. This is not helped by the fact that regulators such as DEFRA have generally been much more focussed on biology and economics than the most important area of science relevant to engaging and understanding stakeholders – social science (SAC Secreteriat, 2007). Early decisions on wind farm locations were made using a broad brush approach and with little stakeholder engagement. It was common in the second round of planning to see consultation only lasting 4 weeks (Gray et al, 2005). And yet location is the key issue that determines impact upon fishing communities, so these time restrictions instantly reduce the scope for useful and positive negotiations with fishers. Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) undertaken once the sites are allocated become inherently biased towards justifying the location. This is not helped by the fact that EIAs are carried out by consultants under contract to the developer, who in practice may lack fisheries expertise or the necessary investigative resources.


The documentation associated with a single EIA, produced by a team of administrators, consultants and scientists.  This particular EIA was delivered to a fishermen’s association office on a pallet.

Consequently, developers face an uphill struggle trying to convince the stakeholders with local ecological knowledge of the validity of their own reports, often based on desk-studies authored by what the fishers regard as pet scientists. Consultation meetings with fishers can often be little more than last minute box ticking exercises where frustrated and poorly informed fishers vent their fury. This allows the developer to adhere only to minimum statutory requirements, citing unreasonable behaviour on the part of fishers. In fact, fishers are sometimes viewed by developers as little more than obstacles with no real rights of tenure who can be bought off, no matter whether payment of compensation is in the interests of the community and environment or not. In contrast, developers are often viewed by fishers as arrogant, devious and well connected with the institutions and regulators responsible for control of their resource (Hart & Johnson, 2005).

Environmental arguments

In an arena increasingly peppered with constraints and tensions, the development of wind farms will unavoidably result in displacement of fishing activity in different ways depending on location. At worst, livelihoods and fishing communities are at stake if fishing opportunities are removed or additional costs are incurred to divert to alternative fishing grounds that undermine the viability of fishing businesses. Developers sometimes cite declining fish stocks and the potential conservation benefits of exclosures as additional reasons to press ahead with wind farms, whether or not the local community objects. It is easy for developers and those that support wind farms to cite claims by environmental NGOs that all fished stocks are in decline. In reality, there is a recognised lack of data at appropriate scales for inshore fisheries to fully determine impact, and to be effective, restrictions on fishing activity for conservation purposes need to be set within the context of a coherent conservation strategy. Presently there is no such integration between wind farm and conservation planning processes. The initial disturbance of an area during the construction phase and ensuing noise pollution caused by pile driving are of concern with regard to fish and marine mammal populations (Hart & Johnson, 2005). The possibility that shark species may be adversely affected by electromagnetic interference is something that scientists have also been investigating. There are, nevertheless, ways that good wind farm design could mitigate impact upon fisheries. Construction activities can be planned to avoid sensitive migratory or reproductive periods and cables can be buried or shielded to limit exposure to electromagnetic fields. In the right location and with careful design, wind farms may be able to act as artificial reefs or fish aggregation devices.

Fisher safety
A wind farm array inevitably poses an increased safety risk to mariners. Fishing among turbines may seem more practical if working a limited number of lobster pots from a small boat, when compared to towing a trawl from a larger one. But there are no hard and fast conclusions on the types of fishing activity that would be compatible from a safety point of view. Sensible safety criteria must, therefore, be agreed on a case by case basis. Outside of any safety exclusion zone that is designated, it is down to skippers to assess their exposure to risk according to the local circumstances, weather conditions and fishing method employed. Some developers prefer to automatically excluding fishers from wind farms completely on safety grounds. That is understandably not something that fishers favour! However, even when fishing activity is not possible, consideration should be given to assess whether it is safe to allow passage to access fishing grounds that would otherwise be blocked. Lessons can be learned from the interactions of the fishing and oil and gas industries. Decommissioning (or recommissioning) in particular needs to be carefully considered now rather than in 20 years time. The stakes for the environment and fishing industry are likely to be higher as the ecological and spatial footprint of wind farms is so much larger. The key issues for all concerned with wind farms, which were less significant with the oil and gas industry, are location and access, and it is these that require real stakeholder involvement and proactive decision-making which takes effective account of the sensitivities and needs of fishing communities.

Originally published: Johnson, ML & Rodmell, DP (2009). Fisheries, the environment and offshore wind farms: Location, location, location. Food Ethics, 4(1): 23-24

Magnus L Johnson (Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology, Centre for Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Hull)

Dale P Rodmell (Assistant Chief Executive, National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations)


BERR (2008) UK Renewable Energy Strategy: Consultation Document. Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

Bratton S, Hinz S (2002) Ethical responses to commercial fisheries decline in the Republic of Ireland. Ethics and the Environment 7: 54-91

Gray T, Haggett C, Bell E (2005) Offshore wind farms and commercial fisheries in the UK: A study in stakeholder consultation. Ethics, Place & Environment 8: 127-140

Hart PJB, Johnson ML (2005) Who Owns the Sea? Workshop Proceedings. lulu.com, University of Hull

Meredith D (1999) The strategic importance of the fishing sector to rural communities and Ireland: a case study of the Rossaveal Region, Co. Galway. Irish Fisheries Investigations (New Series), No. 4

SAC Secreteriat (2007) Social Research in DEFRA. Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, SAC (07) 33

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Co-authored with John Volpe, University of Victoria, Canada

The quick guide to Aquaculture by Lucas [1] recently published in the international journal Current Biology provides a decidedly positive and one-sided view where the myriad of negative impacts associated with the industry are ignored. Introduction of exotic species or genotypes [2-9], amplification and transmission of diseases [10-13] and parasites [14-18]. Indeed the very nature of industrial-scale aquaculture serves to not only accelerate and intensify these impacts [19] but generates whole new problems when mitigation is attempted [20, 21]. For instance the drug teflbenzuron targets sea lice, a crustacean farm pest, but teflbenzuron is an indiscriminate killer of all crustaceans, equally effective against crab and lobster too. Teflbenzuron levels in the few surviving crustaceans around salmon cages are high enough to trigger human health concerns [22]. The benthic environments around net pens are typically anoxic reflecting the vast biological load of faeces and uneaten feed from farms leading to bioaccumulation of mercury in few wild species left to feed on the deposits [23].

The commodification of farmed seafood products like salmon and shrimp have created a race to the bottom among producers. Those generating the most product for the least investment gain the market advantage in the modern aquaculture world where consumers base purchasing decisions on price alone. Therefore maximizing economies of scale and offloading costs are fundamental to remaining competitive. Thus, overlooked corollary is that environmental issues such as those above in addition to carcinogenic product [24-26], predator control, feed sustainability, and ecosystem alteration among others are the physical manifestation of “cheap” seafood – the magnitude of these issues being directly related to the scale of ever increasing production [27, 28]. Consider the proposed Marine Harvest farm that was being considered for Galway Bay (Ireland) with a capacity of 15 000 tonnes (~3 million 4-5 kg fish). The native Galway Bay salmon number in the 10s of thousands. A single significant escape event, which is all but guaranteed [29], could eliminate this native population both demographically and genetically. All this appears to matter little, as industrial aquaculture is so prosperous that it now buys the support of former critics like the WWF [30].

As demonstrably poor as the international salmon farming industry is, its environmental performance is superior to all other major marine finfish aquaculture products globally [27]. In other words, as bad as it is, it’s as good as it gets. As we turn from fish to tropical shrimp farms the story becomes even darker. Irresponsible development in mangrove areas have eradicated large areas of irreplaceable coastal ecosystems which act as repositories for biodiversity, resources for local indigenous populations, natural coastal defences and sovereignty of local populations [31, 32]. Absence of regulatory oversight dramatically threatens both ecological viability [33] and human health [34, 35].

The underlying business model of all industrial scale fish and crustacean aquaculture is to convert inexpensive inputs to higher value outputs. This means converting vast quantities of edible but low value fish such as sardines, and anchovies into much reduced volumes of salmon, shrimp, grouper and sea bass etc. – a net global loss of edible protein but big profits for producers. Profits peak when regulations (or lack thereof) facilitate maximum consumption of “natural subsidies” such as permitting factory farm waste products to be “washed away” by tides free of charge, penalty-free escape events and transmission of pathogens to wild fauna or wholesale conversion of biophysical parameters in and around the production zone. We contend that such farms should pay the state fair market value for the natural capital their operations consume. The alternative is to internalize these costs through transition to self-contained recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) that can be placed anywhere on land greatly reducing the impact on the environment[36].

Magnus Johnson is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology based at the University of Hull.  His views presented here are his own, not his employers.

One slide/phrase from the Slow Fish Manifesto presented at UNESCO in Bergen

1. Lucas, J. (2015). Aquaculture. Current biology : CB 25, R1064-1065.
2. Volpe, J.P., Taylor, E.B., Rimmer, D.W., and Glickman, B.W. (2000). Evidence of natural reproduction of aquaculture-escaped Atlantic salmon in a coastal British Columbia river. Conservation Biology 14, 899-903.
3. Naylor, R., Hindar, K., Fleming, I.A., Goldburg, R., Williams, S., Volpe, J., Whoriskey, F., Eagle, J., Kelso, D., and Mangel, M. (2005). Fugitive salmon: Assessing the risks of escaped fish from net-pen aquaculture. Bioscience 55, 427-437.
4. WWF (2005). On the run- Escaped farmed fish in Norwegian waters. 44.
5. Fisher, A.C., Volpe, J.P., and Fisher, J.T. (2014). Occupancy dynamics of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Canadian Pacific coastal salmon streams: implications for sustained invasions. Biological Invasions 16, 2137-2146.
6. Sepulveda, M., Arismendi, I., Soto, D., Jara, F., and Farias, F. (2013). Escaped farmed salmon and trout in Chile: incidence, impacts, and the need for an ecosystem view. Aquaculture Environment Interactions 4, 273-283.
7. McKindsey, C.W., Landry, T., O’Beirn, F.X., and Davies, I.N. (2007). Bivalve aquaculture and exotic species: A review of ecological considerations and management issues. Journal of Shellfish Research 26, 281-294.
8. Xiong, W., Sui, X.Y., Liang, S.H., and Chen, Y.F. (2015). Non-native freshwater fish species in China. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 25, 651-687.
9. van der Veer, G., and Nentwig, W. (2015). Environmental and economic impact assessment of alien and invasive fish species in Europe using the generic impact scoring system. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 24, 646-656.
10. Marshall, S.H., Ramirez, R., Labra, A., Carmona, M., and Munoz, C. (2014). Bona Fide Evidence for Natural Vertical Transmission of Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus in Freshwater Brood Stocks of Farmed Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) in Southern Chile. Journal of Virology 88, 6012-6018.
11. Peeler, E.J., Oidtmann, B.C., Midtlyng, P.J., Miossec, L., and Gozlan, R.E. (2011). Non-native aquatic animals introductions have driven disease emergence in Europe. Biological Invasions 13, 1291-1303.
12. Price, M.H.H., Morton, A., Eriksson, J.G., and Volpe, J.P. (2013). Fish Processing Facilities: New Challenge to Marine Biosecurity in Canada. J. Aquat. Anim. Health 25, 290-294.
13. Walker, P.J., and Winton, J.R. (2010). Emerging viral diseases of fish and shrimp. Veterinary Research 41, 24.
14. Krkosek, M., Lewis, M.A., and Volpe, J.P. (2005). Transmission dynamics of parasitic sea lice from farm to wild salmon. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 272, 689-696.
15. Krkosek, M., Gottesfeld, A., Proctor, B., Rolston, D., Carr-Harris, C., and Lewis, M.A. (2007). Effects of host migration, diversity and aquaculture on sea lice threats to Pacific salmon populations. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 274, 3141-3149.
16. Costello, M.J. (2009). The global economic cost of sea lice to the salmonid farming industry. Journal of Fish Diseases 32, 115-118.
17. Krkosek, M., Morton, A., Volpe, J.P., and Lewis, M.A. (2009). Sea lice and salmon population dynamics: effects of exposure time for migratory fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 276, 2819-2828.
18. Liu, Y.J., Sumaila, U.R., and Volpe, J.P. (2011). Potential ecological and economic impacts of sea lice from farmed salmon on wild salmon fisheries. Ecol Econ 70, 1746-1755.
19. Pulkkinen, K., Suomalainen, L.R., Read, A.F., Ebert, D., Rintamaki, P., and Valtonen, E.T. (2010). Intensive fish farming and the evolution of pathogen virulence: the case of columnaris disease in Finland. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences 277, 593-600.
20. Burridge, L., Weis, J.S., Cabello, F., Pizarro, J., and Bostick, K. (2010). Chemical use in salmon aquaculture: A review of current practices and possible environmental effects. Aquaculture 306, 7-23.
21. Cabello, F.C. (2006). Heavy use of prophylactic antibiotics in aquaculture: a growing problem for human and animal health and for the environment. Environmental Microbiology 8, 1137-1144.
22. Samuelsen, O.B., Lunestad, B.T., Hannisdal, R., Bannister, R., Olsen, S., Tjensvoll, T., Farestveit, E., and Ervik, A. (2015). Distribution and persistence of the anti sea-lice drug teflubenzuron in wild fauna and sediments around a salmon farm, following a standard treatment. Science of the Total Environment 508, 115-121.
23. Kalantzi, I., Papageorgiou, N., Sevastou, K., Black, K.D., Pergantis, S.A., and Karakassis, I. (2014). Metals in benthic macrofauna and biogeochemical factors affecting their trophic transfer to wild fish around fish farm cages. Science of the Total Environment 470, 742-753.
24. Huang, X.Y., Hites, R.A., Foran, J.A., Hamilton, C., Knuth, B.A., Schwager, S.J., and Carpenter, D.O. (2006). Consumption advisories for salmon based on risk of cancer and noncancer health effects. Environmental Research 101, 263-274.
25. Foran, J.A., Carpenter, D.O., Hamilton, M.C., Knuth, B.A., and Schwager, S.J. (2005). Risk-based consumption advice for farmed Atlantic and wild Pacific salmon contaminated with dioxins and dioxin-like compounds. Environmental Health Perspectives 113, 552-556.
26. Hites, R.A., Foran, J.A., Carpenter, D.O., Hamilton, M.C., Knuth, B.A., and Schwager, S.J. (2004). Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon. Science 303, 226-229.
27. Volpe, J.P., Gee, J.L.M., Ethier, V.A., Beck, M., Wilson, A.J., and Stoner, J.M.S. (2013). Global Aquaculture Performance Index (GAPI): The First Global Environmental Assessment of Marine Fish Farming. Sustainability 5, 3976-3991.
28. Deutsch, L., Graslund, S., Folke, C., Troell, M., Huitric, M., Kautsky, N., and Lebel, L. (2007). Feeding aquaculture growth through globalization: Exploitation of marine ecosystems for fishmeal. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 17, 238-249.
29. FAO (1996). Precautionary Approach to Capture Fisheries and Species Introductions. 1-60.
30. Wilfried Huismann, D.O., Ellen Wagner (2014). Pandaleaks: The Dark Side of the WWF, (Breman, Germany: Nordbook UG).
31. Primavera, J.H. (2006). Overcoming the impacts of aquaculture on the coastal zone. Ocean & Coastal Management 49, 531-545.
32. Bournazel, J., Kumara, M.P., Jayatissa, L.P., Viergever, K., Morel, V., and Huxham, M. (2015). The impacts of shrimp farming on land-use and carbon storage around Puttalam lagoon, Sri Lanka. Ocean & Coastal Management 113, 18-28.
33. Paez-Osuna, F. (2001). The environmental impact of shrimp aquaculture: a global perspective. Environmental Pollution 112, 229-231.
34. Holmstrom, K., Graslund, S., Wahlstrom, A., Poungshompoo, S., Bengtsson, B.E., and Kautsky, N. (2003). Antibiotic use in shrimp farming and implications for environmental impacts and human health. International Journal of Food Science and Technology 38, 255-266.
35. Le, T.X., Munekage, Y., and Kato, S. (2005). Antibiotic resistance in bacteria from shrimp farming in mangrove areas. Science of the Total Environment 349, 95-105.
36. Tal, Y., Schreier, H.J., Sowers, K.R., Stubblefield, J.D., Place, A.R., and Zohar, Y. (2009). Environmentally sustainable land-based marine aquaculture. Aquaculture 286, 28-35.

Is Corbyn the UK’s Trump?

The USA has Donald Trump, we have Jeremy Corbyn; it could have been so much worse, we could have ended up with Nigel Farage. As different as they are they are all a product of the same consolidation of power by neoliberal elites and corporations and a feeling of helplessness in the electorate.  The old adage “No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in” has never been so true.

In the UK the ideological lines between Conservatives (= Republicans) and Labour (= Democrats) had become completely blurred. The labour party, until recently, looked more like a soft right than a party of the people, by the people and for the people.  They have been happy to see the state assets sold off to private industry, content to take the country to war, wanted to distance themselves from workers’ unions and had created a Machiavellian top down party structure.  Margaret Thatcher was once asked, “What is your greatest achievement?”  Her reply was “Tony Blair”. Nuff said!

The ConLab parties opposed proportional representation because it would have lost them safe seats into which faithful and able champagne socialists/tories could be parachuted to take up their rightful positons in the party hierarchy. Over time the leaders on both front benches and party spokesmen (almost no women) had begun to resemble each other in terms of appearance, accent and career history that the public could no longer tell the difference.  Into this absence of a credible opposition, where two Tyrannosaurus-like dinosaurs fought over the centre ground, initially stepped Nigel Farage.  The ridiculous right – a party of racist, anti-european, bigoted middle-aged white males with generally low IQs who believe that the country is being taken over by militant Islamic invaders.  Polls suggested that people were so fed up with the same old, same old that they would even vote for UKIP for a change that might give ordinary people a voice.

Fortunately, a man and a moment have coincided and slightly shabby, quietly spoken and not public school educated, Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership contest of the Labour party. He didn’t just win, he won more votes than the rest of the “old school” Blairites and Brownites put together.  He didn’t just win the election, he increased the membership of the party purely because people wanted an opportunity to vote for him.  The young have come flocking back, people who left the party years ago when it shifted right and people like me – lost socialists (currently a member of the Green Party) are considering engaging.

Apparently winning a leadership election and increasing the membership of the party is a bad thing. Ex-front benchers and current Labour front benchers that Corbyn retained in the name of uniting the party, decry his personality, ability as a leader, friends and policies; all the while proclaiming the need for party unity (Translation: We need to get rid of Jeremy and get back to the comfortable neoliberal, very definitely not socialist, party we had before).  They are of course aided and abetted by the Conservative party who love the fact that the Labour party is split.  They must however, be a little concerned that come the next election the new brand of Corbyn politics is going to sweep them away.  Otherwise, I’m sure the right wing press, or should we just say press in general, would not be constantly and vehemently attacking everything and anything Corbyn does.

I welcome the return of socialism to UK politics and I hope to be able to vote for a Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn in the next election.

Taking the P out of Marine Protected Areas?

The Scottish government has recently announced plans to double the areas of Marine Protected Areas in its waters with plans including 11 new MPAs and 9 Special Areas of Conservation. Somewhat predictably perhaps various conservation groups have been supportive of the measures announced although continue to seek further designations. Also somewhat predictably perhaps fishing organisations such as the Scottish Fishermens’ Federation (SFF) have accused the Scottish Fisheries minister of making irrational and damaging decisions.

The SFF represent inshore fishermen from rural communities on the West Coast who are particularly vulnerable to exclusion from areas they have fished for generations. These fishing communities, major employers on some areas, are already challenged by the discard ban which will prevent fishermen from throwing unwanted catch back into the sea and a by raft of complex rules and regulations that control when, where and what they can fish for. One of the greatest challenges they are facing now is that fish stocks are bouncing back and it’s difficult to put a net in the water without catching fish

Proponents of MPAs suggest that they are the obvious solution to the challenges that our oceans are facing. They suggest that they are easy to enforce, don’t require evidence and are going to improve the health of our fisheries (Hilborn, 2014). They seem like such an obvious solution and there is no doubt that excluding fishermen can protect vulnerable seabed habitats such as mearl beds and coral reefs from particular types of fishing. However, in most areas around the UK the seabed is soft sediment habitat. There is little evidence that trawling impacts on these habitats or banning it improves fish stocks. In fact for some species such as Nephrops (scampi/langoustine), repeated trawling appears to improve stocks (Ungfors et al., 2013).

Recent studies in Australia, which has some of the most stringent marine protection in the world, showed that when you reduce the area that fishermen can access they catch fewer fish by an amount proportional to the area they are excluded from (Kearney & Farebrother, 2014). Fisherfolk are starting to consider themselves as conservation refugees – marginalised by a society that while happy to take the fruits of their labour see them as cheats and liars, taking something for nothing. In one fisheries textbook the attitude of many to fisherfolk is summed up as:

The greatest doubt cast upon the biblical miracles is the fact that most of the witnesses were fishermen

The truth is that fishermen are businessmen trying to make a living, they have families and communities and a culture as different to that of mainstream society as that of Gypsies.

Society seems to enjoy the fruits of agriculture where we plant monocultures, devastate biodiversity, raise animals in sometimes questionable conditions and heavily subsidise an industry in the name of food security.  In contrast fishermen depend on healthy ecosystems to make a living and capture wild fish that have been reared by nature. They are suffering from a modern version of the clearances in the form of ocean grabbing. With the fishing industry there is a drive to further marginalise them by pushing them out of the areas they have been fishing for generations whether or not there is evidence to support it – an abuse of the precautionary principle (i.e. the idea that we should avoid doing anything that might damage the environment) if ever there was one. A true application of this principle would be to avoid changing management approaches until there was evidence that changes would be of benefit – not something conservation organisations want to hear.

It is an unavoidable fact that fishing involves taking fish out of the sea and will have some impact on their populations and their habitats. There needs to be balance between how much we take and leaving a root stock of fish to ensure there are fish available to take next year. If we protect our own seas too much we, like Australia, will export our environmental damage to countries with weaker enforcement and management, increase food miles and increase our dependency on foodstuffs such as farmed salmon and livestock where the production is potentially more damaging to the environment (Kearney & Farebrother, 2014).

Globally, the development of MPAs can sometimes have nothing or little to do with conservation. In the case of the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean the MPA is illegally used as a shield by the UK government to justify exclusion of Chagossians from their islands which are now host to an important US air and naval base  (Dunne et al., 2014). The waters around Chagos were traditionally fished by Mauritians but now only rich yachties are able to ply the waters. Off the Californian coast MPAs have been supported or opposed by big oil money ($266 million over 10 years) depending on the business advantage. Some MPAs developed in this region have infringed on indigenous folks’ rights to fish and gather food but permit industrial aquaculture, oil exploration/extraction, pollution and fracking. In the Seychelles externally funded MPAs have been developed that will exclude local fishermen from traditionally exploited areas while at the same time foreign fleets can exploit tuna stocks through rights purchased by the EU.

I am not anti-conservation and, although I work with them and try to offer support, I’m not a fisheries industry stooge. I just feel very uncomfortable that the prevailing view of marine conservation appears to be to exclude folks that have been working on the sea for generations. I feel this discomfort especially when other forms of usage such as pollution, oil industry, offshore windfarms appear to be less hampered or have the financial might to barge through to their goals. The sea, morally, belongs to fishers as much as land belongs to long established farmers and whatever we do should be done in partnership with the fishing industry – in my view they are the route to a solution and should be encouraged (or even forced) to take responsibility. I also don’t like the oft cited statistic that “only 4%/5%/10% of the sea is protected”. Actually all of the sea comes under some form of legislation. The North Sea has a complex tapestry of fisheries legislation that, if recent surges in fish numbers are anything to go by, is having a positive effect.

We need to think about broader consequences of small actions – if we ban fishing from one area, is the alternative source of food less or more damaging globally? Does more conservation here mean less conservation over there?  When we create a marine “protected” area are we having more impact on “unprotected” areas?

We are living in the Anthropocean and, in my view, we need to accept that and use our ingenuity to make space for nature alongside humanity, not see exclusion of people from resources or ways of making a living as a good thing.

Dr Magnus Johnson is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology at the University of Hull. All comments (critical or not) are welcomed.

Sources Cited

Dunne RP, Polunin NVC, Sand PH, Johnson ML. 2014. The Creation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area : A Fisheries Perspective. In: Johnson M, Sandell J eds. Advances in Marine Biology: Marine Managed Areas and Fisheries. Oxford: Academic Press, 79–127.

Hilborn R. 2014. Introduction to marine managed areas. Advances in Marine Biology: Marine Managed Areas and Fisheries 69:2–13.

Kearney B, Farebrother G. 2014. Inadequate Evaluation and Management of Threats in Australia’s Marine Parks , Including the Great Barrier Reef , Misdirect Marine Conservation. In: Johnson M, Sandell J eds. Advances in Marine Biology: Marine Managed Areas and Fisheries. Oxford: Academic Press, 254-288

Ungfors A, Bell E, Cowing D, Dobson NC, Bublitz R, Sandell J, Johnson ML, Cowing D, Dobson NC, Bublitz R, Sandell J. 2013. Nephrops fisheries in European waters. In: Johnson ML, Johnson MP eds. The Ecology and Biology of Nephrops Norvegicus. London: Elsevier, 248–306.

Can we have a randomly appointed house of parliament please?

Parliament today better reflects the gender balance and is more ethnically diverse, but in terms of educational and vocational background the new political elite look remarkably like the old establishment. It is surprising how many of our MPs were privately educated, went to Oxbridge and worked in the professions, particularly Conservatives and Lib Dems. It seems that our Parliament is becoming less representative in terms of education and occupation, and continues to attract similar types of people from a rather narrow professional base”. The Smith Institute

We are told in the UK that we should be proud of the fact that we are in one of the oldest democracies in the world.  However, the UK political system is not really a democracy.  Those in power mostly come from privileged families and attended private schools and attended universities that have an admissions system that is biased towards the wealthy, privileged upper classes. 

 “Just over 7% of British children are privately educated, yet over 40% of those at Oxford and Cambridge were.”

The Economist points out how Cambridge has an explicit target of 60% from state schools and that good students will do well whatever university they go to.  They seem to miss the point (twice).  Aiming for a tawdry 60% when 93% of excellent students will be from state schools indicates that there is something very wrong with the Oxbridge admissions system.  Applicants that get to Oxbridge are (at the extremes perhaps) a combination of elite intellectuals from state schools who want to learn and public school kids who have been force fed education and feel it is their right to hold positions of power.

Those that stand for parliament are generally those that can afford it by dint of inheritance or good fortune.  We have been caught up in an arms race between parties when it comes to election time that requires more and more money generally making party finances more important than their policies.  At the top of the pile, the pretence of democracy vanishes and we find that large areas of the UK are owned and ruled by the landed gentry.  It’s a bit more subtle than it was when lords had the right of  jus primae noctis of virgins, took a share of their tenants earnings and could call them up to go to war but it’s still there. 

I read a great paper recently – a recent re-incarnation of the “Peter Principle”.  This is the fact that people generally get promoted to a point where they are less competent than they were when they were doing a lesser job.  Take for example Universities.  Here an academic will be promoted to the higher ranks on the basis of research.  A good researcher isn’t necessarily and good manager but that is often the basis upon which they are promoted.  The paper by Pulchino et al suggests that random promotion is more effective for organisational performance than performance by ability at a lower level.

The peter principle;  ‘Every new member in a hierarchical organization climbs the hierarchy until he/she reaches his/her level of maximum incompetence’.

Similarly, politicians are elected on the basis of their performance in the polls – depending on how slick a campaign they can run, how much money they can raise to  promote themselves, how charming they are in front of a crowd.  While some of these skills are transferable to positions of high office, they are not features that give the voter a complete picture of the character and competence of the politician. There is a big difference between getting yourself elected and working in parliament.  It is quite easy to think of democratically elected mistakes on both sides of the house and we know that there are many “safe seats” in the UK where if a monkey wore blue or red they would get elected to parliament.

Our current political system requires MPs to tow the party line, to adhere to a particular set of standards and avoid thinking for themselves.  This is quite obvious when you see an MP closely questioned by a skilled interviewer.  Here when faced with a difficult question where the audience is screaming at the telly/radio “Tell us what you think!”, we are often frustrated by bland, bland responses or skilful evasions of questions.

The solution, to me is obvious.  Parliament should consist of 500-600 folk randomly selected from the population, associated with regions, and they should, by law be required to represent their fellow citizens for 5 years.  There should be very few exceptions to who could be selected (children, criminals, the insane, terminally ill who do not wish to end their lives in parliament) and there should be no evading the requirement.  I suggest that the “election” should replace half of the house every 2.5 years so that a certain amount of experience remains in place.  Every member of parliament should be adequately recompensed and should have access to training and neutral advisors (civil servants).

There would be nutters, there would be folk that struggled to deal with the issues of the day, there would be bigots and racists, there would be folk that would seek to gain personal advantage, there would be incompetence, there would be those that just turned up for pay and there would be narcissistic, publicity seeking individuals.

No change there then.

Out of 600 randomly selected folk, there would also be highly motivated and intelligent folk, people that had a wide experience of a range of issues outside of the “public schoolboy goes to oxford and then Westminster” bubble.  Just over half of the folk represented would be women, many would be young, 10 percent would be LGB and truly representative proportions would be black, Muslim, atheist, disabled etc.

Big change there.

But the critical difference would be that each person would be there for a limited term, they could choose, but not be forced, to align to a particular set of beliefs.  After 5 years, no matter how good or poor they were, they would be returned to the general populace, a mite richer and a mite wiser.  This would be a true democracy where the PEOPLE represented the PEOPLE, rather than the people being “represented” by the elite.  We trust the public to adjudicate in sometimes complex legal cases, why not in every day life too?