THE recent deaths of ten dolphins in Balearic waters have set alarm bells ringing and the Greenpeace vessel Esperanza will sail tomorrow from London for a five-week planned investigation into the deaths of dolphins in European waters. Greenpeace has for years campaigned in Balearic waters against illegal drift net fishing by so-called pirate fleets, mostly from France and Italy, and the recent deaths of ten dolphins in Minorcan waters have caused a great deal of concern.
But the problem is not just restricted to Balearic waters where trawlers using nets over the European Union 2.5 kilometre maximum come in search of tuna from as far afield as Japan in the summer. The conservation organisation estimates that some 10'000 dolphins and porpoises die after becoming ensnared in fishing tackle in this region every year. A report entitled The Net Effect presented yesterday by Greenpeace in conjunction with the Society for the Conservation of Whales and Dolphins, purports that fishing practices using enormous nets, with a mouth section twice the size of a football pitch, and dragged through the water by two vessels, are the root cause of the death of thousands of dolphins each year. In the case of species such as the common dolphin, this figure can represent the death of 5 percent of the population each year. Scientists believe that the annual loss of only one percent of a population constitutes a threat for the viability of the species. Each winter, hundreds of dead dolphins and porpoises end up on British and French beaches while in the summer the problem escalates in the Mediterranean. These are only a small part of the thousands of animals which die in the sea but don't get washed up onto the beaches. Drift netting, a form of trawling used for catching sea-bass, mackerel, hake and bonito in summer, is especially threatening the common, and the striped dolphin; but it also affects other species. British, French, Irish, Dutch, Danish and Spanish fishing boats which trawl in the Channel between the British mainland and France, in the Bay of Biscay and the Irish Sea are amongst those responsible for this problem in northern Europe.
In the Mediterranean, the spotlight is on the French and the Italians, so much so that the Italian government has sent teams of Coast Guards to help Greenpeace and the Spanish authorities patrol the Western Med. The use of destructive fishing practices and the huge fishing industry presence in European Community waters, way above sustainable levels, are at the root of the problem. Greenpeace is demanding that plans to reduce fishing fleets should concentrate in the first instance on areas where ecology is suffering most explained a Greenpeace spokesman, Sebastián Losada. The accidental netting of dolphins, porpoises and other marine species in the fishing tackle of trawlers is considered on a worldwide scale as one of the gravest problems currently affecting marine life. It is estimated that some 300'000 whales, porpoises and dolphins die annually as a result of this unintended consequence. Globally, it is believed that 23 percent of the catch is returned, lifeless, to the sea.