Moray Firth dolphins at risk from salmon nets
1st July 2004
More than 50 illegal salmon poaching nets which can kill dolphins and porpoises have been found in the Moray Firth in the past two years, campaigners revealed yesterday.
The firth is home to the world’s most northerly population of bottlenose dolphins - one of only two resident groups in Britain - and generates about £17 million a year in environmental tourism.
A large part of the area, from Helmsdale in Sutherland to Lossiemouth in Morayshire, has been recognised as a candidate to become a Special Area of Conservation under the European Habitats Directive, primarily for its dolphin interest.
The fight to protect the 130-strong dolphin population led to the launch of Operation Fishnet, a campaign against illegal netting, in 2002. Since then 55 illegal nets have been recovered from the firth, most of them from the main areas used by dolphins. One person has been fined £225, another case has been deferred and a third is pending.
Over the past ten years, at least two dolphins have been killed by the nets although wildlife groups believe the figure to be much higher.
The recovered nets were made of nylon, and measured up to 68 metres long. They were anchored to floats close to the surface within 500 metres of the shore.
The campaign, organised by a coalition of public bodies, wildlife charities and police forces across the country, has stepped up action with more boats covering a wider area. This year £12,000 is being spent on the operation.
Superintendent Alan Smailles, Grampian Police’s Moray divisional commander, said: "This illegal netting poses a major threat to dolphins as well as posing a threat to the viability of legal salmon fishing in the Moray Firth.
"The importance of the dolphins to the marine ecology and the economy of the area cannot be underestimated. The aim of the operation is to eradicate illegal salmon netting."
Scottish Natural Heritage has provided grants of more than £9,000 to fishery boards to develop and extend anti-poaching patrols and to train crew in patrol boat handling.
Ben Leyshon, SNH area officer, said: "The Moray Firth dolphin population is a major asset to local tourism as well as an important species in the area’s marine biodiversity. As well as being illegal, this form of salmon netting poses a major threat to dolphins, which often feed in the main netting areas."