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Treaty protecting dolphins and porpoises under threat

A European treaty aimed at protecting dolphins and porpoises may be on the brink of collapse, damaging conservation efforts, environmentalists fear.

The 10 nations including Britain which are parties to the treaty, Ascobans - the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas - disagree about increases in funding for the treaty's secretariat, based in Bonn. They meet in The Hague tomorrow in an attempt to resolve the problem. A possible solution might involve the secretariat's role being taken over by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which is based in the same building in Bonn.

But Britain's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) fears no solution may be found, and that the agreement may lapse when funding runs out at the end of this month.

"If that happens it will mean an end to the treaty's conservation actions, such as plans to protect porpoises in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea," said Mark Simmonds, head of science for the WDCS.

The WDCS fears the increasing threats to the animals in Europe, particularly from fisheries "by-catch" - when large numbers are caught accidentally in fishing nets and drowned - are not matched by conservation efforts. There have been several trials of "pinger" devices to alert dolphins and porpoises to the presence of nets but they are not yet in general use.