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'Pingers' to protect porpoises and dolphins in Baltic

Ian Black in Brussels

25th July 2003

The Guardian

Brussels is riding to the rescue of dolphins and porpoises, demanding the elimination of driftnets and the use of special acoustic "pingers".
Proposals published by the European commission yesterday extend to the Baltic a ban on nets already in place for fishing in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

Thousands of dolphins, whales and porpoises die each year after becoming entangled in huge fishing nets - described by one wildlife lobby group as "walls of death" - towed between boats. More than 200 dolphins and porpoises were found dead off Devon and Cornwall between January and March this year alone.

The commission wants to limit the length of nets in the Baltic to just over one and a half miles and ban them by 2007. The use of pingers, which emit a high-pitched noise to deter cetaceans, will become mandatory for all fishing vessels in the Baltic, the North Sea, the Channel and Celtic shelf.

The moves will especially benefit harbour porpoises, the most "critically endangered" marine mammal in the Baltic.

The commission also demanded measures to ensure the monitoring of marine mammal populations and accidental catches by placing observers on board high-risk fishing vessels. "This is an obligation that, even if it has economic consequences, is inevitable," an official said.

The proposal now goes to national governments and the European parliament, with an agreement expected early next year. Franz Fischler, the EU fisheries commissioner, said it was his job to achieve sustainable fishing without undermining marine biodiversity.

"These measures will ensure that fishing activities do not threaten the conservation of cetaceans, while increasing knowledge of the interaction between these species and fishing gear," he said.

Greenpeace UK's ocean campaigner, Willie Mackenzie, said: "Trawling in EU waters is pushing dolphin populations beyond ecological safety limits and there is limited time to rectify the problem."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare called the proposals an important step towards saving the Baltic harbour porpoise from extinction.

Glyn Ford, Labour MEP for the south-west, said: "Britain has already taken certain initiatives, but the problem stems from boats of all nationalities operating in EU waters. It's pointless Britain going it alone. The carcass count can only fall with action at European level."

He added: "These proposals mark another significant victory in the ongoing battle to develop fishing techniques that are not harmful to marine wildlife."