Monday, August 29, 2005

Dolphins deaths close fishery!

THE deaths of at least 19 dolphins in fishing nets has forced a shutdown of the state's $28 million-a-year pilchard industry.Fishing by 14 Port Lincoln licensees will cease until an industry code of conduct acceptable to the State Government is drawn up.

A summit of industry and Government leaders will be held in Port Lincoln on Monday in a bid to have the fleet back in action as soon as possible, but the Government already has foreshadowed a ban on pilchard fishing around Ward Island, south of Port Lincoln.

The dolphins have died after being trapped in the huge nets used to scoop up schools of pilchards, which provide feed for West Coast tuna farms.

As Fisheries Minister Rory McEwen took the drastic action to shut down the industry yesterday, Government sources admitted the exact number of dolphins killed would never be known.

"These are just the ones we know about," a source said. Mr McEwen and Premier Mike Rann said the action was drastic, but necessary.

"Once the code is completed and the fishery re-opens, each pilchard boat will need to ensure an independent observer is on board to monitor dolphin activity," Mr McEwen said.

He said interim results from an observer program conducted by the South Australian Research and Development Institute had confirmed 19 dolphin deaths over a five-month period. The Government had acted as soon as this was known.

Fisheries director Will Zacharin said fishermen would accept the need to take such action.
"I think the fishermen all understand the situation in relation to the interim results we have had from the independent monitoring program," he said.

"The fishing industry recognises that something must be done to ensure we mitigate any further mortalities of dolphins." Asked if the move would affect livelihoods, Mr Zacharin said there would be time over the rest of the season for the industry to fill its quotas.

He said the tuna pens which relied on the pilchards for feed had about six days of supplies left and the Government hoped to resolve the situation within that time.

Marine Scale Pilchard Fisherman's Association president Leith Whittaker said one of the options being looked at was the provision of "gates" in fishing nets to allow dolphins to escape.


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