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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 20:28 GMT
Dolphin 'carnage must stop'
Dolphin on shore
Hundreds of dolphins have been washed ashore
The common dolphin could vanish from waters between England and France, MPs have been warned.

Torbay MP Adrian Sanders said during a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday that record numbers of dolphins and porpoises had been found washed up on beaches in the countries since January.

He wanted action taken against those trawler owners alleged to be responsible for the "carnage".

He said he wanted the UK Government to press for a European ban on boats with engines of more than 500 horsepower.

Sea mammal populations could be lost, MPs heard
Mr Sanders told how dolphins were caught in large nets while feeding on fish such as mackerel and sea bass.

He said: "They die a horrific death. The dolphins panic and this shuts off their airholes and they can spend between 15 and 20 minutes trying to fight their way out of the nets before eventually suffocating."

He said some dolphins had been found punctured or cut, and asked why there had been no attempt to prosecute those "perpetuating the carnage".

Since January, he said, 120 dolphins had washed up dead on the beaches of Devon and Cornwall.

French toll

Other deaths have been reported along the coast as far as West Sussex and the Isle of Wight.

On the French coast, 800 dolphins and porpoises had been found dead in the same period, MPs heard.

We want to see action and we want to see action this year

Environment Minister Michael Meacher
A device shown to prevent sealion deaths off New Zealand was due to be tested by the government, but Mr Sanders said it might not work on a different species.

He said: "If we don't act now we may actually have had our last visit of these magnificent creatures, and we never had the chance to say goodbye."

Sir Anthony Steen, MP for Totnes in Devon, asked how long they would have to wait for action.

'Stop fatalities'

Environment Minister Michael Meacher said he could give no timetable because of the uncertain way in which the European Union operated.

He confirmed that post-mortem examinations had shown the majority of the recent dolphin and porpoise deaths were the result of fishing activities.

post mortem
Post-mortems show nets cause most deaths
The government had taken up the issue with the European Union and the French Government and urged the European Commission to set up its own observer programme, said Mr Meacher.

"We are certainly not dragging our feet and we want to see action and we want to see action this year," he said. "Of course we are on the side of those who want to stop the fatalities."

Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley had previously said that if tests on the new device to protect dolphins were unsuccessful, fishing bans could be imposed.

Most of the boats involved are from other European Union countries.

See also:

11 Feb 02 | England
Date set for dolphin net tests
07 Feb 02 | England
Minister vows to save dolphins
02 Feb 02 | Northern Ireland
Fish net fear over dolphin safety
05 Jan 02 | England
Rare whale beaches in Devon
06 Oct 01 | England
Dolphins face death in nets
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