18th October 2005 Cornwall Wildlife Trust attended another fatality on 14th October caused by entanglement in fishing gear, but this time the dolphin was a species rarely seen around Cornwall. Volunteers were called out to the scene at Porth Meor beach near Porthcothan and soon realised that this was not a common dolphin but a rare striped dolphin.
The striped dolphin is a small, slender animal normally occurring in groups of hundreds or thousands. They are very sociable animals but very rarely do we see them in UK waters.
The dolphin was taken to post-mortem, which concluded that the injuries sustained were consistent with bycatch in fishing nets. The bloody gashes on her face, net marks on her skin and the broken jaw she suffered were the result of a long hard battle to try and escape from the net she had become entangled in.
Joana Doyle, Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust said, “The striped dolphin that washed up dead was too young to have had the chance to breed before she died. Her struggle for survival must have been long and excruciatingly painful judging by the markings on her small body. This one dolphin should be a message to everybody, including the decision makers, that something has to be done to stop these deaths and to reform the fisheries here in the UK and at the European level.
By recording stranded cetaceans over the last 12 years, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and its dedicated team of volunteers have worked tirelessly to show the link between certain fishing methods and dead stranded cetaceans.
Last year there were 223 dead cetaceans recorded on Cornwall’s beaches. Joana Doyle said, “It has been estimated that only 5-10% of dolphins accidentally caught and killed by fisheries ever wash ashore. So last year the total killed could have been anywhere between 2230 and 4460 animals”.
Since January this year, 77 dead cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) have already been reported to the Trust and the peak fishing season has yet to begin.
The UK government is very aware of the problem and is under obligation to take action. Pair-trawling was recently banned within 12 nautical miles of the coast. It has been claimed by Greenpeace that this action may have actually increased the rate of bycatch, by pushing trawlers into areas where dolphin populations are higher. In a recent court case between Greenpeace and DEFRA the judge claimed that this ban was based on “no substantial scientific basis”. Fisheries Minister, Ben Bradshaw admitted that the ban was “more of a gesture really than anything that would actually help the dolphin and porpoise population”.
Joana Doyle said, “This ban is not enough and will probably mask the problem, as the dolphins that are killed further out to sea now, will be less likely to wash ashore and be recorded. The precautionary principle should be adopted by the European Commission and pair-trawling for sea bass should be banned until such time that it can be proven not to have a significant negative impact on dolphin populations. The UK needs to do more to protect its dolphins within its territorial limits, but as these are mobile species capable of travelling vast distances and the fisheries in question are governed by the Common Fisheries Policy, the real reform must occur at EU level”.
The Cornwall Wildlife Trust is asking for support for its campaign to end these needless deaths by:
1. Reporting dead cetaceans to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust Strandings Hotline: 0845 201 2626.
2. Writing to your MP, urging him/her to fight for better regulation of our inshore fisheries through the Marine Bill.
3. Writing to Dr. Joe Borg, EU fisheries Minister asking him to put an end to cetacean bycatch in pair-trawlers.
4. Avoid eating sea bass caught in pair-trawlers, but opt for sea bass caught by hand-line.