Why dolphins are paying the price of your sea bass dinner

A A A

Record numbers of dolphins and porpoises are being accidentally killed by fishing fleets off the British coast.

Record numbers of dolphins and porpoises are being accidentally killed by fishing fleets off the British coast.

Marine biologists estimate that in the first three months of this year up to 10,000 dolphins and harbour porpoises were drowned or fatally wounded by trawler nets off Britain and France - the highest figure ever seen.

In south-west England alone, 264 dolphins and porpoises were washed up on beaches during this time - only sevenfewer than the total figure for the whole of last year in the same area.

The escalating number of deaths is linked to the booming restaurant trade in sea bass, as well as to mackerel and sardine fisheries. Biologists estimate that for every two "hauls" by a sea bass trawler, one dolphin is killed in the vast nets dragged for up to 20km by the ships - a problem known as "by-catch".

Conservationists are warning that this death rate is unprecedented, and accuse the European Commission and the British government of failing to take decisive action by suspending the fisheries, cutting the size of nets or restricting fishing areas.

Britain's foremost expert on dolphin strandings, Richard Sabin of the Natural History Museum, said that fleets could be paid by the Commission not to fish. "The implications for dolphin populations are very disturbing," he said.

Ali Ross, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said the animals were suffering violent deaths that would never betolerated by owners of farm animals.

"There's a huge animal welfare and moral issue here," she said. "You're talking about thousands of animals that are suffering an extremely unpleasant and prolonged death which would never be allowed for animals on land.

"They often suffer horrible injuries before they die - beaks are broken, fins are severed and there is internal haemorrhaging."

International experts believe that only one-tenth of the cetaceans killed at sea wash up on shore and have estimated that up to 10,000 had been killed because the French have already found about 700 carcasses on their beaches. Most carcasses are swept into the ocean or sink to the sea floor. In March, 29 dolphin carcasses were seen floating off Dorset by the local coastguard, but none of the bodies reached shore.

Hopes that a solution had been found were raised last week after scientists found that building an "escape hatch" in a net - in the form of a metal grid large enough for cetaceans to swim through - dramatically cut the death rate. The team from St Andrews University found that only two dolphins died in 82 hauls - well below the average death rate of one dolphin for every two hauls.

Attempts to cut "by-catches" are being championed by Elliot Morley MP, the fisheries minister, but experts warned that it would take several years to test, develop and fit similar escape hatches on every trawler in the British and continental fleets.

The Irish and French are also investigating plans to place "pingers" on nets, which send out sounds that deter dolphins. The European Commission is also planning a major research project into new techniques with the Dutch, Irish, British, French and Danes. This could take until 2006 to complete. Unless dangerous fishing techniques are suspended until regulations are improved, common, striped and bottlenose dolphin and harbour porpoise numbers could fall so low that their survival in British waters would be at severe risk.

Mr Sabin, who co-ordinates the British dolphin strandings research programme, said this year's national total was already higher than normal. In 2000, there were 421 reported strandings on beaches, which grew to 655 for the whole of last year. But already this year, there had been 423 fatalities nationwide.

"If this level of mortalities continues, it will be unsustainable. It's probable we will see a fall in the number of common dolphins migrating through British waters over the next few years," he said.

News
peopleChildren leave in tears as Santa is caught smoking and drinking
Arts and Entertainment
A host of big name acts recorded 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' in London on Saturday
musicCharity single tops chart
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall has become the eighth celebrity to leave Strictly Come Dancing
tv
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
News
i100
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin