Dolphin-killing trawlers stopped from fishing

Feature story - March 3, 2005
ENGLISH CHANNEL, United Kingdom — Last season UK government observers witnessed two vessels, the Ocean Star and Ocean Crest, killing more than 150 dolphins while trawling for sea bass. But the government didn't lift a finger to stop it. So we took our ship, Esperanza, into the English Channel to do something about it. Now we have found them.

Activists attempt to discover if a pair trawler has dead dolphins in its nets. The trawler is trying to hide the content of the nets from view.

The Ocean Star and Ocean Crest are part of a "pair trawling" fleet from the UK and France, which is estimated to kill thousands of dolphins in the English Channel every year. Pair trawlers drag a huge net between them to catch fish like sea bass, but also kill dolphins.

Our inflatables found the pair trawlers about 30 miles south of Plymouth. As soon as we approached, the trawlers stopped fishing and hauled in their nets. Our campaigner Willie was onboard one of the inflatables: "As soon as we got between the trawlers they swiftly started moving together - encircling us between them and their nets! Of course our inflatables are much more manoeuvrable, and we got away no problem. The boats then started to haul their nets - and as soon as one vessel was 'free' from the net it made a point of continually heading straight for our inflatables at speed.

"All the time the one boat was hauling; the other seemed to be trying to stop us getting close to see the net hauled. Anyone would think they had something to hide - like all the dolphins they've killed in this fishery over the past few years?

"Immediately the boats steamed off, and it doesn't look like they'll start fishing again soon. But we'll keep with them - safe in the knowledge that every hour they're not fishing, they're not killing dolphins." More from the weblog.

Previously, the Ocean Star and Ocean Crest stopped fishing when we placed swimmers in front of the boats and attached large inflatable buoys to their net. We are taking action because both the UK government and the European Union (EU) have failed to tackle this problem.

"This needless destruction of the dolphin population must stop, and because the governments won't stop it, it's up to us. Otherwise, there's a very real chance that dolphins will disappear altogether from the Channel," said Sarah Duthie from onboard the Esperanza.

Government observers on UK sea bass trawlers last year recorded 169 dolphins killed in the huge nets. Government figures estimate that the UK fleet alone was responsible for the deaths of 439 dolphins last year. The UK and French fleets combined could be killing over 2000 dolphins a year.

We want the UK government to investigate which other fishing methods are also killing dolphins and porpoises and take action. Worldwide, the unintentional capture in fishing nets of dolphins, porpoises and other marine species is a major problem. It is estimated to kill some 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises a year. Overall it has been estimated that 23 percent of the global fisheries catch is thrown back dead.

Take action:

Tell the new EU Fisheries Commissioner, Joe Borg, that you want pair trawling for bass banned!

In depth:

Read the updates from the crew taking action for dolphin protection.

Slideshows of dolphins and our actions to defend them.