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Dolphin deaths in fisheries

I am writing to seek your help in our campaign for better monitoring and regulation of fisheries in Europe, in order to prevent the unacceptable deaths of dolphins and porpoises in fishing nets. At present, British consumers of fish products are largely unaware that many fisheries around Britain and in our neighbouring waters are responsible for the deaths of thousands of these beautiful creatures every year. However, the public are becoming increasingly well informed and this will inevitably lead to a growth in demand for fish products that are truly "dolphin-safe".

As you are probably aware, the horrific images of hundreds of dead dolphins stranded on English and French beaches in recent months has brought to public attention one of the least acceptable aspects of some fishing practices. Many people have long been aware of the threat to dolphins posed by tuna fisheries using purse-seines in the Eastern Tropical Pacific and by driftnets. However, there is now a growing realisation that other fisheries are threatening dolphins and porpoises that live in the waters around Britain and Europe.

Extent of the problem

It is now generally accepted that the dead dolphins that washed up on our beaches this winter were the incidental, visible victims of pelagic trawl and pair trawl fisheries operating to the south and west of the British Isles, and represented just a fraction of the thousands of animals that were probably killed. Dolphins are also being caught in alarming numbers in the summer pair trawl fishery for tuna.

Meanwhile, set gill net fisheries, both south-west of England on the Celtic Shelf and in the North Sea, have been killing unacceptable numbers of harbour porpoises - as many as 10,000 in a single year.

Apart from the sheer scale of this avoidable carnage, the death of these unfortunate animals is particularly horrific and cruel. The dolphins and porpoises struggle in the net for many minutes, often suffering broken teeth and beaks, deep gashes in their sensitive skins and severed fins and flukes, before they finally suffocate.

Action required

In order to reduce this unacceptable bycatch, we are campaigning across Europe for new provisions under the Common Fisheries Policy for the compulsory monitoring of cetacean bycatch in all fisheries that could cause this problem. We are calling for a formal response process, through which any identified problems have to be addressed by a bycatch reduction plan with strict targets and timeframes. I enclose a document that outlines these proposals for your information. We also support the compulsory labelling of all fish products to reveal the location and method of their capture.

One of our campaign objectives is to encourage awareness and concern among consumers, about the ethical and environmental implications of the products they buy. I am sure you will agree that it is in the interests of all retailers to be able to provide a credible reassurance to customers that the fish they buy is caught in fisheries that do not harm dolphins or porpoises. At the very least, that these fisheries have been monitored and, in the event of bycatch problems, are being subject to mitigating management measures. However, where bycatch reduction targets are not being met, we propose that the fishery concerned should be suspended.

We urge you to use your significant influence, as a major fish retailer, to impress upon the European Commission the importance you attach to this issue, and your support for a credible and independent system for monitoring cetacean bycatch in fisheries and an effective process for bycatch reduction. Given the great sensitivity of the issue, I am sure that you would not want to see popular fish products such as hake, bass or turbot branded as dolphin killers.

We hope you will give your support to our campaign. Given the timing of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, we feel that if this initiative is to be successful, representations should be made to the Commission as soon as possible (preferably by the middle of June). We suggest your letter should be directed to Fisheries Commissioner, Franz Fischler and we have taken the liberty of enclosing an outline text that sets out the case for the changes we are proposing. We would be grateful if you could copy to us any letter you send to the Commission on this matter. We intend to issue a press release stating that we are calling on supermarkets and other major fish outlets to assist in pressing for provisions within the CFP for the monitoring and prevention of dolphin and porpoise deaths in fisheries.

If you would like to discuss further the issues raised in this letter, please contact Ali Ross of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society on 01768 482282, or Bernadette Clarke of the Marine Conservation Society on 01989 566017.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Ali Ross

On behalf of the following organisations:

British Divers Marine Life Rescue
Campaign Whale
European Cetacean Bycatch Campaign
International Animal Rescue
Marine Connection
Marine Conservation Society
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
The Shark Trust
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
The Wildlife Trusts