French fishermen blamed for killing hundreds of dolphins

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French fishermen pursuing sea bass may be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of dolphins off the coasts of Britain and France, Britain's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society believes.

In the past month, 80 dolphins have been washed up dead off England's south coast, three times the number last year, while 300 dolphins were found dead on the beaches of France's Atlantic coast in nine days in late January.

Marks showed they had been caught in nets, and some had been mutilated in an attempt to make them sink.

The deaths are occurring during the winter hunt for sea bass – for which there is now a huge demand – in the waters south-west of the British Isles by about 50 French trawlers.

The French boats are operating as pelagic (open sea) pair trawlers, a technique in which two boats draw a net rapidly near the surface water. Research shows this technique can produce a big unintentional entrapment of dolphins, porpoises and small whales. The French boats will not allow observers on board.

The conservation group is calling for the EU to monitor pelagic pair trawling closely. Ali Ross, of the group, said: "We think the finger of suspicion points at the French sea bass fishery over the recent dolphin kills, but pair trawling for all species presents dolphins with a serious threat."