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The End For European Dolphins?

Aug 03,2000 Leon Roskilly

I first encountered dolphins as a teenaged merchant seaman. Many times, as the ship on which I happened to be working, approached land, the dolphins would come out to greet us.

Often, when I close my eyes, and search my memory for images that will rest my soul, it’s the image of a school of dolphins, cutting through the spray, sliding effortlessly through the water, just inches from the speeding bows, which comes into my mind.

Being an angler, I know only too well the dangers of interpreting the action of other creatures in human terms. But dolphins aren’t fish, they are warm bloodied social mammals, intelligent and with large brains.

Photo courtesy of Marine Conservation Society http://www.mcsuk.org and Copyright Graeme Cresswell

I have no doubt that they care one for another, that they have a sense of fun and that they see us as benign friendly creatures, enjoying our company as much as we enjoy theirs.

When I see much of the damage which man visits on our planet, and on the creatures with which we share this fragile environment, I’m often moved to anger.

When I read reports of these intelligent, playful, social creatures, being slowly drowned, in their many hundreds, by European fishermen, my mind tries unsuccessfully to cope with imaginings of their sufferings.

It is well established that dolphins will go to the aid of their pod members (friends and family in human terms). How many have gone into the nets of death, responding to the distress cries of their young, their favourite companions? The anger in my mind grows.

If these creatures were being hunted sustainably, the products of their corpses being put to good uses, I’d still have a problem with that.

To read that, as a result of new fishing methods, more dangerous than drift nets, these creatures are being slowly drowned, to be cast overboard as discarded by-catch. To read that the many bodies washed up are but a fraction of those that sink unseen to the bottom. To read that as a result of the fishing effort, they will become extinct within 20 years, then my anger becomes white hot.

Notice the tins of Tuna on supermarket shelves which carry the ‘Tuna Friendly’ label? That’s there because people were prepared to do something to change things.

If you want things to change then please do something.

The following is a letter written by Roger Baker to John Prescott.

If you want to help stop this slaughter, please send a letter and/or email of your own. Send one also to your own MP and MEP, and to Elliot Morley, the MAFF minister responsible for fisheries.

Send a letter to Mr Franz Fischler, European Commissioner (Fisheries).

(You’ll find the addresses elsewhere on this site, under ‘Contacts’)

Tell as many people as you can about what is happening, in any way that you can.

Overseas, as well as In England, anglers and non-anglers alike.


Rt Hon John Prescott MP
House of Commons

Dear Sir,

As the minister responsible for CITES, supporting the world-wide ban on whaling for food which both Japan and Norway are attempting to lift; Is the minister aware of a situation, involving the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of dolphins and other cetaceans, plus mammals, ongoing around the coast of S.W England?

The situation is an international disgrace reflecting on MAFF and the EU Fisheries Commission, who are aware of the problem, but doing very little to implement the inevitable solution.

Recently (21/03/00), the 6.00pm BBC News south-west region carried a news item reporting the deaths of five dolphins washed up in St Ives Bay during the previous 24 hours. The report informed viewers that the total number of dolphins for the period (Feb/March to date), washed up on beaches in Devon and Cornwall had reached forty-two.

All fatalities and strandings are the result of discardment from entanglement nets by French and Scottish trawlers.

These figures, supported by photographic evidence, are confirmed by Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

The bodies of about 400 dead dolphins were washed up on western French beaches over a two week period in February.

These figures are confirmed by Anne Collet, head of the centre for research on Marine Mammals at La Rochelle.

Scientists estimate that at the current rate of mortality, Atlantic Ocean dolphins will be extinct within 20 years.

Strandings along the Atlantic and Channel coasts from 1992-1998 were a total of 2,578 cetaceans comprising 18 species. The principle species recorded was the common dolphin (n=929, 36% of strandings). The total number of Balaenoptera stranded was 33, mainly fin and minke whales, but there were also two records of sei whales and four of humpback.

At the centre of the problem are said to be French, Spanish and British trawlers, which drag funnel-shaped pelagic nets, which can be more than 100 yards wide, in search of anchovies, hake, herring, bass and other fish.

They pick up everything that crosses their path, including the dolphins, which are asphyxiated because, as mammals, they need to come up to the surface to breathe every ten to 15 minutes.

It is ironic that conservation measures for bass (1990 legislation MAFF) and a decade of good recruitment years, has led to such greed and unimaginable destruction.

Unbelievably poor fisheries management, which has allowed the evolution of an offshore winter fishery which targets spawning bass, has killed the goose which lays the golden egg.

The south-west bass fishery has been more than decimated over the last five years. The loss to artisanal fishermen, anglers, the sport fishing industry and tourism is uncalculatable.

Now we have to clear dead dolphins from our beaches each year, before the tourists arrive, and explain away the lack of fish.

Could not some of the £300 million Objective One funding for Cornwall, be used to close down this fishery?

It is difficult to imagine an attraction for tourism in Cornwall, better than a bass or a dolphin.

Yours Faithfully,

Roger Baker

Tourist Operator

Suggested Reading:
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) http://www.bdmlr.org.uk/


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