Trawler nets must carry sonic alerts to frighten off dolphins, says EU

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The Independent Online

Trawler nets should be equipped with sonic "pingers" to frighten off the thousands of dolphins and porpoises trapped and drowned each year, the European Commission said yesterday.

With dolphin deaths rising, and harbour porpoises almost extinct in parts of Europe, the EC also wants to extend the ban on driftnets, making them illegal in the Baltic by 2007.

The plans will affect fishermen nearer home, with concern mounting following the discovery of 200 dead dolphins off Cornwall in three months. MEPs and animal welfare groups say most are being killed accidentally, entangled in trawls for other species.

The Labour MEP Glyn Ford, an expert on marine science, said: "Drift nets are the size of football pitches, trailed between two boats, scooping up everything in their way. You are talking about 1,000 deaths a year. These EU proposals mark a significant victory in the battle to develop fishing protections."

The pinger plan, to be considered by EU ministers in the autumn, means the devices would have to be fitted on nets in the Celtic Sea, the English Channel and parts of the North Sea. The pingers, costing €40 to €100 (£28 to £71), placed 100m apart, emit a shrill ring. They would be mandatory on gillnets in areas frequented by the species at risk.

Governments would have to monitor the activity, with a minimum number of onboard observers examining by-catches. EU rules bar driftnets in the Atlantic but, with harbour porpoises in the Baltic now an endangered species, the EC wants to extend the ban. A total embargo would start in 2007. Until then, the length of driftnets would be held to 2.5km.