New nets may help cut dolphin deaths

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Action is being taken to prevent the deaths of dolphins caught in giant nets strung between fishing trawlers, the Government announced today.

The Fisheries minister, Elliot Morley, has ordered trials of a "cattle-grid" system to stop dolphins, porpoises and small whales getting entangled. If that failed to stem the killings a ban on "pair trawling" – in which two boats string a net between them – in British waters could follow.

The move comes after The Independent highlighted the problem last week. More than 100 dolphin carcasses – a record number – have been washed up along Britain's south coast this year. France's Atlantic coast has also seen exceptional numbers of the dead mammals.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland has applied for funding to test nets with a "Nordmore grid" – a set of bars that forces larger, unwanted sea creatures out of the net.

Mr Morley said: "I will be introducing the new nets, and if that doesn't work then I am prepared to look at legislative action to make sure pelagic [open-sea] fishing stops killing dolphins."

Simon Northridge, of the sea mammal unit, claimed the Nordmore grid, developed in Norway and already used in the United States, had a 95 per cent success rate. But this would be the first time it had been used with dolphins.

The Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has called for urgent reform of European fishing rules, claiming that in one recent incident an Irish boat hauled up 30 dead dolphins with its catch of fish.

The number of dolphin deaths has been rising because more boats, mostly foreign, have taken up pair trawling in the winter fishing areas off the coasts of Devon and Cornwall in search of valuable species such as sea bass.

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