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  WWF website, 9 Jun 05
Caught in nets: WWF report identifies dolphins, porpoises most in need of urgent action

Gland, Switzerland – Nine dolphin and porpoise populations around the world need immediate action if they are to survive the threat of entanglement in fishing gear.

These are the findings of a new WWF report based on a first-ever assessment by leading marine scientists.

According to WWF, bycatch – the capture in fishing gear of unwanted fish and other species – is one of the greatest global threats facing dolphins, porpoises, as well as whales.

When caught in fishing nets, many of these cetaceans, which need to come to the surface for air, get trapped underwater and die. Previous estimates show that more than 300,000 cetaceans are killed in fishing gear each year in the world’s oceans.

The report indicates these dolphins and porpoises as languishing without attention, but stresses they could recover if changes to fishing methods and other conservation efforts were made.

They include harbour porpoises in the Black Sea, where thousands of porpoises are killed each year; Atlantic humpback dolphins off the coast of West Africa; Irrawaddy dolphins in South East Asia; and Franciscana dolphins in South America. Most of the species on the list are threatened by the widespread use of one type of fishing gear – gillnets.

These nets are difficult for dolphins and porpoises to spot visually or detect with their sonar, so they may become tangled in the netting or in the ropes attached to the nets.

“Almost 1,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die every day in nets and fishing gear. That’s one every two minutes," said Dr Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF's Global Species Programme.

"Some species are being pushed to the brink of extinction. Urgent action is needed - and we developed this ranking to help governments and aid agencies know where their money and efforts can really make a difference." For example, between 1993 and 2003, fisheries in the United States introduced changes, such as modifications of fishing gear, that reduced cetacean bycatch to one-third of its previous levels.

But so far, few of these successful measures have been transferred to other countries, and in much of the rest of the world, progress to reduce bycatch has been slow or nonexistent.

"Rather than simply identifying the species or populations at greatest risk, or the geographical locations where the bycatch problem is most severe, the group of scientists was asked to emphasize where the prospects for successful intervention were especially good," said Dr Randall Reeves, lead author of the report and the chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cetacean Specialist Group.

The report will be submitted to the International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee at its annual meeting next week in the Republic of Korea. The scientific committee last year endorsed the methodology of the WWF report.

NOTE: Species and populations designated in the report as among the top priorities for investment of resources are:
Irrawaddy dolphins in the crab net/trap fishery in Malampaya Sound, Philippines
Irrawaddy dolphins in gillnets in the Mekong, Mahakam and Ayeyarwady rivers and in Chilka and Songkhla lakes
Southeast Asia Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in drift and bottom-set gillnets on the south coast of Zanzibar (Tanzania)
Harbour porpoises in coastal gillnets in the Black Sea
Spinner dolphins and Fraser’s dolphins in large-mesh driftnets and purse seines in the Philippines
Atlantic humpback dolphins in coastal gillnets in the northern Gulf of Guinea (Ghana, Togo)
Burmeister’s porpoises in artisanal gillnets in Peru
Franciscana dolphins in coastal gillnets in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil
Commerson’s dolphins in coastal gillnets and midwater trawls in Argentina

WWF website, 20 Jun 05
EU bid to evade driftnet ban likely to kill thousands of dolphins

Gland, Switzerland - A failure to plug a loophole in the European Union’s anti-driftnet legislation will result in the return of driftnet fishing to the Mediterranean, and is likely to cause the death of thousands of dolphins and other species, warns WWF.

According to the global conservation organization, already between 3,000 and 4,000 striped and short-beaked common dolphins – a threatened species – are estimated to be caught every year in the Alboran Sea (southwestern Mediterranean) alone as illegal driftnet fishing continues unchecked.

WWF urges EU Fisheries Ministers, meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, to amend the loophole in the Mediterranean Fisheries Regulation, which creates a new category of floating-gillnets.

These so-called “anchored floating gillnets” would be allowed to catch tuna and similar fish species, at present banned for driftnet fishing. But, according to WWF, this is an attempt to disguise driftnet fishing under another name. WWF says that modified driftnets, even when re-labelled “anchored floating gillnets”, are nothing more than large scale driftnet gear which targets large fish like tuna, and are therefore illegal.

“In some cases, anchors have been added to driftnets in order to circumvent the driftnet ban," said Paolo Guglielmi at WWF's Mediterranean Programme. “This cosmetic modification does not change the legal status of the gear, or the damage it does.” Driftnets can be more than 10km long.

According to a recent WWF report, about 23,000 sharks are captured as bycatch annually by the Moroccan driftnet fleet in the Alboran Sea, and another 77,500 are caught in neighbouring areas.

Under the current legal framework, this driftnetting activity is a form of pirate fishing.

WWF believes the only valid way to prevent the driftnet fleets from massacring dolphins, sharks, and other marine species, and destroying the livelihoods derived from the legal fishing of tuna and tuna-like species in the Mediterranean is to enforce the total ban on all driftnetting in the region.

“EU Fisheries Ministers must stop this attempt to authorize the use of large-scale driftnets in the Mediterranean, or risk undermining management and conservation agreements put in place by governments in the region over the past 10 years,” said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF's Global Marine Programme.

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