Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Tuna War: Lords say ban on drift net fishing cannot be justified - European Commission plan to outlaw nets 'is unbalanced'

AN ALL-PARTY Lords committee on drift net fishing has attacked a proposal by the European Commission that the use of the nets be banned by 1997.

Saying that there was no justification for a ban, the Lords accused the commission of issuing politically inspired proposals unsupported by scientific evidence.

As more Cornish, French and Irish fishermen head to the Bay of Biscay to fish for tuna, risking further confrontation with Spanish crews, the Lords have issued what amounts to a propaganda salvo in defence of drift net fishing.

Their report, issued on Monday, accuses the commission of issuing an 'unbalanced' proposal that 'lacked intellectual integrity and objectivity'.

A ban on the use of drift nets has long been advocated by environmental groups such as Greenpeace and by organisations like the Atlantic Salmon Trust, which makes the point that every salmon caught in a net is worth about pounds 20, but each fish caught on a rod is worth at least pounds 200. Netting salmon in the north-east of England generates less than pounds 2m for the economy, while Scottish salmon angling generates about pounds 50m.

The commission wants to end drift net fishing both on the high seas and within national 12-mile limits, on environmental grounds and to protect the livelihoods of fishing communities that use traditional methods of rod and line. Such a ban would affect the 10 British boats that turned to tuna fishing in recent years, and the coastal salmon fishery.

Long drift nets have already been outlawed by the United Nations because they kill a large number of dolphins and sharks. Their gills become entangled in the mesh and they drown. The carcasses are dumped.

It is estimated that more than 1,700 dolphins are caught annually by the 64 French vessels that fish for tuna.

For Italian boats fishing for swordfish in the Mediterranean, the statistics are worse. Swordfish account for only 18 per cent of the catch, which includes 74 species. As for the 'dolphin windows' used by British drift net fishermen, which are meant to allow mammals to escape unharmed, the Lords report said that it was still not known whether they are effective.

The Lords report said there was 'scant evidence' that the nets were causing over-fishing of tuna or damaging the dolphin population. As for the Spanish technique of fishing with poles, lines and live bait being 'dolphin-friendly', the Lords cited evidence from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to the effect that this technique 'poses a serious threat to sea birds'. There was evidence that guillemots, razorbills and occasionally puffins are caught in drift nets, especially those set by coastal fishermen catching salmon.

Evidence was presented that drift net fishing had caused a 60 per cent fall in salmon stocks over the past 30 years.