Dolphin 'bycatch' death evidence

Feature story - 7 February, 2004
Our ship Esperanza has been monitoring UK fisheries for evidence of dolphin deaths in trawler nets. Yesterday we found what we had hoped not to: five dead dolphins, floating in the vicinity of two sets of pair trawlers.

Dolphin killed by pair-trawling. Thousands of porpoises and dolphins die every year as accidental bycatch.

The five adult dolphins had obviously been trapped in the net and drowned in the struggle to escape. All of the animals had cuts to their beaks, fins and flippers. A piece of net was also discovered near the carcasses.

They were found about 20 miles off the coast of Plymouth, England. Four of the bodies were recovered and loaded on to the Esperanza, while the fifth was washed away.

Pair trawling is a method of fishing used to catch sea bass during the winter. Huge nets (some can hold 10 jumbo jets) are towed in mid water at high speed by two fishing boats to catch fish such as sea bass, mackerel, horse mackerel, hake and in summer albacore tuna. However these fish are also the food of common dolphins and Atlantic white-sided dolphins in particular, but also bottlenose dolphins and long-finned pilot whales. These species are caught accidentally in the same nets and dragged to their death.

The Esperanza is currently touring UK fisheries where dolphins might be threatened to highlight the issue of 'bycatch'. Thousands of dolphins and porpoises die as 'bycatch' in fishing nets every year in these waters. Many carcasses wash up on local beaches.

Potentially thousands more sink at sea - as would the five dolphins we found today, if we had not spotted them.

Fishermen deliberately mutilate some bycatch victims, attempting to make the animals sink. A common dolphin, with axe-like wounds on its body, was found dead on Burgh Island, off the South Devon coast, this week. It appeared someone had tried to cut off the dolphin's head and tail.

Incidents like these show that the official dolphin death count is just a fraction of those that are actually killed in trawling nets. The total number of 'bycatch' deaths could be as high as 10,000. The problem is so severe that dolphins (and porpoises too) could actually be wiped out from waters around the UK.

We are calling on the UK Government to take urgent measures to stop the damage inflicted by destructive fishing practices.

Take action!

Send a message to UK Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw right now.

Related video:

Dolphins condemned by pair trawling:

Quicktime (4.4 MBytes), Real (3.2 MBytes), Windows Media (3.4 MBytes)