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Minister to probe bass fishery veto

Western Morning News

13th April 2004

Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw is to look into emergency measures that could close the sea bass fishery off the coast of Devon and Cornwall for a year to stop the relentless death toll of dolphins.

The Exeter MP came under pressure from South West MPs of all political persuasions at a debate on the issue this week at Westminster.

He urged them to hold off for the results of trials into new separator grid nets which are intended to protect dolphins, promising the results would be available in a matter of weeks.

But the pressure on the minister is growing - as emphasised by this week's debate and a bill introduced by Torbay MP Adrian Sanders to ban pair trawling.

Falmouth and Camborne's Labour MP Candy Atherton who led the debate said: "There is already abundant evidence that the trawl fishery, and particularly the sea bass fishery, are killing cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) at a level that the population cannot sustain."

She said this was in breach of a legally binding European agreement.

Article 7 of the European regulation on the conservation of fisheries says: "If there is a serious threat to the conservation of living aquatic resources or to the marine ecosystem resulting from fishing activities which requires immediate action, the commission, at the substantiated request of a member state or on its own initiative, may decide on emergency measures which shall not last more than a year."

Mr Bradshaw pledged: "Once those results (of the trials) are known, I am prepared to consider any action. I am keen to investigate the use of article 7. That would be far more effective than any unilateral measure because, at present, there are six UK pairs and 30 French pairs operating in the bass pair fishery, so even if the UK were to implement a unilateral ban, that would tackle only the lesser part of the problem."

The debate heard a call from Linda Gilroy (Lab, Plymouth Sutton) for "urgent action" to tackle the problem.

Tory Rural Affairs spokesman James Gray paid tribute to Linda Hingley of Brixham Seawatch, who had done "superb work" raising the profile of the problem on the South Devon coast.