Watershed EU vote to protect dolphins
Western Morning News
11th February 2004
New measures to tackle dolphin deaths off the Westcountry coast were approved in Europe yesterday in a "watershed" vote, according to one South West MEP.
The European Commission has suggested a number of proposals to tackle the annual bycatch problem which has resulted in hundreds of cetacean carcasses being washed up on Westcountry shores in recent years.
Those measures included the widespread introduction of acoustic deterrents, known as "pingers", an independent monitoring programme and a total ban on such drift nets in the Baltic Sea by 2007. An amendment was also proposed for more research into so-called separator-grids, which allow dolphins to escape the trawl.
At a meeting in Strasbourg yesterday, the moves were overwhelmingly approved by members of the European Parliament yesterday.
During the debate South West MEP Neil Parish, Conservative fisheries spokesman in the European Parliament, said: "Unless we take urgent measures to stop the damage inflicted by destructive fishing practices, there is a real possibility that dolphins and porpoises could be wiped out from waters around the UK.
"These proposals are an important first step to protecting the dolphin and porpoise population. Phasing out the use of drift nets and requiring the use of pingers could save thousands of animals every year.
"However, it is essential that alternative fishing methods be developed that remove the threat to dolphin and porpoises once and for all."
South West MEP Graham Watson, who has helped to force the issue onto the European agenda, described the vote as a "watershed" moment.
"I'm quite please that we finally have some action," Mr Watson said. "I, and others, have tabled parliamentary questions and the commission has put in on the fisheries agenda. But to date they have done nothing.
"Now we have proposals which have been voted through.
"These things always grind slowly but as from now action will be start to be taken although the national governments have to put these things in place."
Mr Watson, who recognises that the measures do not go "far enough", said there had been an attitude change among Euro MPs representing countries involved in bass pair trawling to stop denying there was a problem and "recognise" changes are needed.
He was hopeful yesterday that the observer programme - among the many demands of conservationists - would be in place before the resumption of the bass fishery next season.
However, the final decisions rest with EU government ministers who will discuss the plan later this year.
Last year more than 250 dolphins and porpoises were washed up in Cornwall alone, and there have already been scores more since the turn on this year.
Some conservationists welcomed yesterday's step forward. But others insisted before the vote that only an EU-wide ban on bass pair trawling would end the dolphins plight.