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Saturday, 2 February, 2002, 15:35 GMT
Fish net fear over dolphin safety
Dead dolphins
Dead dolphins have been found along coastlines
By BBC News Online's Jane Bardon

Fishing methods being introduced in Irish waters since a European Union ban on drift netting may not prevent dolphins being killed, according to conservationists.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has raised the concerns following the publication of a study by the Irish Sea Fisheries Board.

The board's report concluded that pelagic tuna fishing methods, which were thought to result in less by-catch, would be viable for the Irish fleet.

The study was carried out over two years - 1998 and 1999 - in waters off the west coast of Ireland, fished by Irish and French boats.

The study of alternative tuna fishing methods, commissioned by the European Commission, was carried out in preparation for the ban on drift netting which came into force in January 2002.

Its findings have now been made public following official ratification.

A trapped dolphin
A dolphin trapped in a trawler's nets

The EU is still in the process of reforming the Common Fisheries Policy, which is due for completion by the end of 2002.

The Irish Sea Fisheries Board studied four pairs of albacore tuna trawlers from different Irish ports using the pelagic fishing method - fishing with a net dragged by two trawlers.

Fishing gear technologist Dominic Rihan co-ordinated the board's study team.

Mr Rihan told BBC News Online: "The EU banned drift netting from 1 January 2002, so we were investigating the legal alternative methods which include pelagic fishing to see how the tuna fleet could be diversified.

"Our conclusion was basically that pelagic fishing was a viable alternative."

Licences

Mr Rihan said that before the ban, there were 18 Irish drift-netting licences held by the Irish fleet.

He said the alternative fishing methods and the number of licences available meant that tuna fishing would remain a viable industry.

"The Irish quota is 300,000 tonnes and the department can give out a maximum of 50 licences to boats using legal methods," he said.

"These include pelagic fishing, long-lining and an older method, trolling with lines."

Mr Rihan said many Irish and French boats not involved in the study were already successfully using pelagic fishing methods.


We have known for years that these pelagic trawl nets are responsible for major dolphin kills

Ali Ross
Conservationist

However, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) has expressed concern because it says even pelagic fishing methods presented a "major threat" to whales and dolphins.

During the Irish Sea Fisheries Board's study, 145 dolphins and whales were caught in the eight trawlers' nets.

The board's report said it seemed the majority of whale and dolphin net drownings had happened when large numbers of animals were caught in isolated incidences.

On one occasion, 30 dolphins were caught in a single haul.

The board concluded that with increasing experience of pelagic trawling methods "and by observing a number of simple fishing practices" accidental catches of whales, dolphins and other wildlife "would be reduced to negligible levels".

But the WDCS has called on the EU to start independent monitoring of all boats using pelagic methods in European waters.

The society has also accused the UK Government of not doing enough to investigate the problem of dolphin and whale by-catches.

Ali Ross from the WDCS said: "We have known for years that these pelagic trawl nets are responsible for major dolphin kills but these findings provide some of the strongest independent and scientific evidence yet of the scale of the problem".

The society said that, so far this year, 80 dead dolphins had been found on beaches in England and Wales.

It added: "Many of the animals show clear signs that fishing nets were the cause of their death and some bodies have been deliberately mutilated."

See also:

25 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Whales find Mediterranean sanctuary
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