The first dolphin victim of the new bass fishing season has been found washed up on a Westcountry beach. Campaigners fighting for the welfare of cetaceans say the carcass is sad proof that new regulations on bass fisheries will have little impact on the widespread slaughter of dolphins and porpoises.
Every year, hundreds of dead cetaceans are washed up on shores around Devon and Cornwall - caught in the huge nets trawled between two vessels in a method of fishing mostly used by French and Scottish boats known as bass pair trawling.
The female common dolphin came in with high tide at Leasfoot Beach, Thurlestone, South Devon, at 9am on Wednesday.
Lindy Hingley, founder member of Brixham Seawatch, which has fiercely campaigned against bass pair trawling, said signs indicated the dolphin had met its death in a trawling net. Scuffed fins, marks on the body and broken teeth all showed she had struggled to break free.
Ms Hingley said campaigners had hoped a ban on bass pair trawling inside a 12 mile range off Britain's shorelines would halt the dolphin deaths.
"That's all Ben Bradshaw could do and we hoped it would make a difference," she said. "But lots of them are caught outside that 12-mile limit.
"DEFRA police our waters very well, but they can't be everywhere. A lot of these guys fish under the cover of darkness. Essentially they can go where they like."
She said dolphin populations were reduced by up to 10,000 each year.
"The only hope for the dolphins is to ban bass pair trawling unilaterally - that means stopping the French boats," she said.
"Of course that's going to be difficult, but it doesn't matter because it's got to be done."
She said a dolphin caught in a net would experience panic and make a desperate bid to escape, often with the screams of other dolphins surrounding it.
"These mammals are so well-adapted to underwater life, it takes about 20 minutes for them to die in this way. Their organs rupture - that's what kills them. I've asked experts what they would experience and the response was 'unimaginable pain'."
Yesterday staff at Thurlestone Golf Club retrieved the carcass from the beach, ready for collection by the Natural History Museum, who took it away for autopsy.
Green keeper Henry Yeoman said the carcass was just one of about 20 he had come across in the last five years. "It's always very upsetting," he said. "Many of them are in much worse states than the one we found here. This one's probably only been dead for three days.
"I've seen cases where their fins and tails have been cut off. Once I found one with a two-foot steak cut out of its back.
"Sometimes you see them swimming up and jumping in the water and it's fantastic.
"It's not right to see them like this."
Ms Hingley praised the work of golf club staff, and other volunteers who made it possible for her to retrieve the carcasses and send them off for autopsy.
The golf club's secretary, Terry Gibbons, said: "We are always willing to help out in whatever way we can."