North Sea Fishermen Killing
Thousands Of Porpoises
In Fishing Nets
By Tony Henderson
Thousands of porpoises are dying each year in North Sea fishermen's nets, a report out today reveals. North Shields, Blyth, Cullercoats, Hartlepool and Whitby were among fishing bases covered by research for the study, said the RSPCA.
The organisation said it is believed about 1,000 harbour porpoises die each year in UK nets in the North Sea and 7,000 in Danish nets.
The air-breathing porpoises are caught and drown in gill nets, which are set to catch fish like herring, hake and cod. The nets are not towed but are hung vertically, and are either anchored to the sea bed or drift with the tide, ensnaring fish by the gills.
RSPCA marine wildlife consultant Helen McLachlan said: "The Government has known about the unacceptable level of deaths and suffering yet it has failed to introduce measures to reduce the toll.
"Nets going out of the North-East will be responsible for some of the level of loss. Although the Government has commissioned research into this problem it has failed to introduce changes in fishing practices which are sorely needed. It is estimated the deaths account for around 6.5pc of the North Sea porpoise population while the maximum rate of increase for such long-lived and slow breeding animals is 4pc.
"The problem is when more animals are being taken than the population's level of recovery. That in time leads to decline and even extinction," said Ms McLachlan.
"Each year without action means more unnecessary suffering. Wherever gill nets are set in waters populated by porpoises they will be caught and die.
"We need a reduction in the amount of gill nets going into the water. We cannot stand by and let this be a case of out of sight out of mind."
Barry Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, said the industry was working with the Sea Mammal Research Unit in St Andrew's Scotland, on ways of tackling the problem.
"From time to time porpoises and dolphins are caught. It is a matter of regret but it is like hedgehogs being killed on the roads - it is a by-product of what we do and it is not intentional.
"But because of this unintentional by-catch we are co-operating with the Sea Mammal Unit on finding solutions such as installing electronic pingers on nets which scare away the porpoises."

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