Trawlers that kill hundreds of dolphins banned from British seas
By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
28th September 2004)
Britain yesterday declared a unilateral ban on a method of industrial trawling for bass that kills hundreds of dolphins each year in the English Channel.
The ban on pair-trawling, announced by Ben Bradshaw, the fisheries minister, at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, will apply to vessels within the British 12-mile limit but will not stop French or British trawlers fishing further out.
Mr Bradshaw also announced that the Government would be seeking to limit the number of British boats, particularly Scottish trawlers, displaced on to bass because of restrictions on catching North Sea cod, under a new system of licences.
Wildlife groups said the announcement was a significant gesture likely to place pressure on France and the European Union to take further measures to tackle the "by-catch" of dolphins. Mr Bradshaw described his action as "leading by example".
He indicated that there was zero concern about the dolphin deaths in France, making EU action difficult.
The inshore ban on the method, in which two trawlers drag up to half a mile of net between them, will apply from November.
It is the first time that a conservation measure in the sea has been imposed unilaterally by Britain that could potentially affect another member of the EU. France runs 60 pair trawlers in the Channel compared to Britain's six.
It is possible that France will complain to the European Commission, saying the ban is a constraint on its vessels, further inflaming a row between the two countries over the dolphin deaths.
The EC had refused a request from Mr Bradshaw to close the fishery for conservation reasons because trials of dolphin-excluder devices had failed.
The minister indicated that he was looking to reform the role of Britain's sea fisheries committees, which are responsible for inshore waters.
He said the committees, which are dominated by commercial interests, were "archaic", were not obliged to do what ministers told them and made it very difficult to create marine reserves as required by EU law.
Mr Bradshaw, who has visited both Iceland and the Faroes to look at ways of giving fishermen more of a long-term interest in conserving fish, indicated that he was looking at giving fishermen long-term tradeable rights to fish as they have in Iceland.
Mr Bradshaw said: "If commercial fishermen are given some stake in the future of the stock they tend to behave more responsibly and see conservation as in the long-term interest of their children and grandchildren."
He told the meeting that setting up a network of marine reserves was a priority for Britain's presidency of the EU next year.
Phyllis Campbell-McRae of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which organised the meeting, congratulated Mr Bradshaw on taking a "tough decision", while Ali Ross of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said that it was "a very important political gesture".
Joan Edwards, of the Wildlife Trusts, said: "I'm really pleased, but the same number of dolphins are going to be caught next year unless similar action is taken within the Common Fisheries Policy."