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For 118 a dolphin dies

Cornish Guardian

1st April 2003

A fishing practice blamed for dolphin deaths generates only a few thousand pounds a year for the Westcountry economy, campaigners claimed yesterday. Conservationists say pair trawling for bass, in which two boats tow huge nets, cause hundreds of dolphin and porpoise casualties.

They say the cetaceans are caught up in the massive nets and drown as they are held under the water.

Pair trawling is largely carried out off the Westcountry by boats from Scotland and France during a three-month season in the winter.

Official Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs figures obtained by the WMN show that 123 tonnes of sea bass worth 786,449 was landed at Plymouth - the main port used by the pair trawlers - during 2002.

Plymouth Trawler Agents' auction fees of 3.5 per cent generated income of around 26,895. That equates to 118 for each of the 228 cetaceans found dead and mutilated on the beaches of Devon and Cornwall last year.

Campaigners claim only one in ten cetaceans, which drown in the bass pair nets are washed on to Westcountry beaches. As a result, conservationists believe the true figure is closer to 11.

Campaigner Lindy Hingley, founder of Brixham Seawatch, was stunned by the figures, and said it proved the financial case for closing the sea bass fishery.

"These boats come here and rape our seas, killing all these dolphins in the process, and we are the ones who have to clean up the mess on our beaches," she said.

"Why is (Fisheries Minister) Elliot Morley supporting bass boats that don't put anything into the South West economy? Why is he protecting this industry?

"We are only talking about 30 or 40 jobs on these boats and this is a part-time fishery. They are only down here for three or four months, they are doing other things for the rest of the year.

"Aside from the financial arguments what people must never forget is the agonising deaths these poor animals suffer."

Plymouth Trawler Agents auctioneer Tim Bozman said there were a variety of reasons why the mammals found on Westcountry beaches had died.

"As far as the money being generated for the local economy, the figures are debatable," he said. "But it is extra to what there normally would be."

He said it was impossible, as auctioneers, to force skippers to change their method of fishing - but stressed that nobody in the industry wanted dolphin deaths to occur.

"Nobody likes it," Mr Bozman said. "We don't want to see it and we would rather it didn't happen. But a ban is not the right way to go forward.

"Preventing any bycatch deaths is the way to look at it, which is why these new nets are being trialled. The people who own these boats have the right to earn a living and they don't deliberately go out to kill dolphins."

David Ball, from the Silver Dolphin Marine Conservation Centre at Porthleven in Cornwall, which is to begin monitoring sightings and strandings, added: "These are truly shocking figures. The life of a dolphin is worth far more than 118."

Mr Morley has faced increasing pressure from Westcountry campaigners, as well as the Wildlife Trusts, the RSPCA and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society to solve the problem, but has refused to take unilateral action to ban the trawlers responsible. However the Minister, who has praised the WMN's coverage of the toll of dolphin deaths, says he is committed to solving the bycatch problem.

Two weeks ago he launched the Government's "dolphin strategy" to reduce the rate of accidental bycatch. It included plans to force fishermen to fit special acoustic "pingers" to their nets to scare off dolphins and porpoises.

Trials are also taking place off the Westcountry coast of new bass pair nets which include an "escape hatch" for dolphins and porpoises.

Yesterday, marine conservationist Colin Speedie said dolphins were "clearly" worth more to the local economy alive rather than dead.

He explained that in Shannon, in Ireland, dolphin and whale watching was a 1 million-a-year industry. The global income for whale watching is estimated at 1 billion.

"People come to the Westcountry for its outstanding natural beauty," Mr Speedie said. "What happens, as is the case with dolphins, when it is being destroyed?

"More and more people are coming here to see what they perceive is a unspoilt environment. But we are seeing the deaths of one of our most attractive creatures, which clearly isn't doing us any favours."

A spokeswoman said the figures were misleading because the dolphin deaths could not solely be blamed on Scottish fishermen landing at Plymouth. "There is no means of attributing dolphin deaths to one group of fishermen," he said. "The UK could only bar its own fishermen from pair trawling but most pair trawlers around the South West coast are French. Therefore the way forward is at EU level.

"There are only a handful of UK pair teams and it is fishermen from other member states who are using the fishery to a greater degree."


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