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Another year of slaughter looms

Western Morning News

10th January 2004

The toll of cetacean deaths in the Westcountry rose again yesterday after eight dead dolphins and porpoises were discovered washed up in Cornwall.

The bodies of five porpoises - bearing all the hallmarks of having been caught in fishing nets - were discovered by Dr Nick Tregenza, of Cornwall Wildlife Trust, near Penzance.

Volunteer Caroline Curtis photographed and reported the grim find on Marazion and Long Rock beaches yesterday.

"They were spaced out along the beach and I have no doubt they were the victims of by-catch," she said. "All the skin was rubbed off their beaks and over their dorsal fins.

"It makes me feel incredibly angry. The most poignant thing is they are not all fully-grown - in fact two were calves. In the past few weeks we have reports of porpoises washed up in the same place. They are much more elusive creatures than dolphins and they don't tend to travel in such large pods."

Later in the day, three cetacean carcasses were found at Par and Duporth, near St Austell, on Cornwall's south coast.

Volunteers were last night identifying and measuring the marine mammals, which are also likely to have been the by-catch victims of bass pair trawlers.

Meanwhile, post-mortem examinations are to be carried out on the bodies found at Marazion and Long Rock. The results will be added to data complied by the Natural History Museum.

Yesterday's discoveries are among the first of what conservationists fear will be another year of slaughter off the Westcountry coast.

Large visiting bass pair trawlers, who frequent the rich waters off the South West, are blamed for the annual tide of death, which topped 250 in Cornwall alone last year.

Campaigners, who have demanded an outright ban on the fishery, have been frustrated at a lack of action from both the Government and the European Union.

Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw has backed the introduction of nets with "escape hatches" following what DEFRA claimed was a successful trial last year.

They are to be used voluntarily by Scottish fishermen this year although campaigners have stressed the DEFRA trial was flawed because it was carried out at the wrong time of year.

Meanwhile, the EU has been attacked for merely insisting on mandatory observers on such boats in the face of such overwhelming evidence.

If anyone spots a dolphin washed-up on a Cornish beach please call 0845 2012626. For Devon, call the Devon Wildlife Trust on 01392 279244.