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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 01:04 GMT 02:04 UK

'Extinction' claim over North Sea cod

Marine wildlife face growing risks (Wildlife Trusts)

By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Overfishing has driven the cod to virtually vanish
from the North Sea, conservationists say. They
say it is now commercially extinct, meaning it
makes no economic sense to try to catch it.
Scientists have warned for years that this was
likely to happen. But the claim marks the first
time anyone has suggested that cod stocks have
actually fallen to so low a level. It comes from the
Wildlife Trusts, a partnership of the 47 county trusts which work and campaign for wildlife protection across the UK.

Damaged beyond repair

Joan Edwards, of the Trusts, told BBC News Online: "The cod really have gone commercially. Most of the cod we eat in the UK now come from Iceland."

In a report, Our Dying Seas?, the Trusts decry the continued commercial fishing for species like the sandeel, on which many food fish and wild species depend.

The report says another species at severe risk is the unique horse mussel, found in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. It says: "The once vast horse mussel colonies on the seabed that formed a vital habitat for a wide diversity of species have been almost irreparably damaged by commercial dredging for queen scallops."

Beach litter - and a dolphin
(Cornwall Wildlife Trust)

It blames fishing practices for the plight of several small cetacean
species in UK waters:

•fishing for bass in the western English Channel by trawlers
operating in pairs, which in one recent study recorded 53 common
dolphins caught in 12 net hauls. The Trusts are campaigning for
the practice to be banned;

•the deep-water gill net hake fishery, using thin nets
floating just above the sea bed. The report estimates the harbour porpoise annual mortality this is said to cause around Cornwall at 6.2%, which it says is unsustainable;

•the use of monofilament gill nets, which the report says
"may have created a direct conflict with species such as the bottlenose dolphin";

•the introduction of "rockhopper" trawls, spring-loaded nets able to cope with previously undisturbed reef areas that are home to rare species like the pink seafan and the sunset coral.

The report says the number of dolphins drowned or injured in fishing nets is "dramatically increasing", with a record 500 animals stranded this year, most through contact with nets.

It says bottlenose dolphins off Cornwall have probably declined by almost two-thirds in the last ten years, with possibly only 350 left in UK waters. The species, it estimates, could become extinct here by 2012.

It also wants more protection for basking sharks, the sea's second largest fish at 10 metres in maturity.
And now that leatherback turtles are recognised as part of the UK's native fauna, rather than occasional vagrants, the report urges better protection for them from fishing gear.

Ins Seabed life is at risk (Wildlife Trusts)

The sea returns

It says 100 hectares of salt marsh are lost annually in southern
and eastern England to coastal development and erosion. This
destroys a habitat for migrating birds and fish.
The Trusts have bought a coastal farm in Essex where the
sea defences will be breached, permitting the creation of more
than 80 ha of salt marsh and mudflat.
The report criticises salmon farming in Scotland, which it
says produces large amounts of polluting nutrients.
The Trusts say the future lies in ecosystem management, a process they call integrated marine stewardship. They want the government to issue a policy statement, to introduce new laws, and to unify the management of marine resources.