Saturday, August 02, 2008

Fishermen defend themselves following 20 dolphins deaths

WA fishermen have been forced to defend their methods off the Pilbara coast after 20 dolphins died last year when caught in trawl nets dragged by commercial fishing vessels. Pictures leaked to The West Australian from within the Department of Fisheries reveal dead dolphins believed to have been caught in nets off the Pilbara coast last year.

The WA Fishing Industry Council said yesterday the number of dolphins caught inadvertently had more than halved in two years as the industry introduced new technology, including devices designed to stop dolphins from being trapped in the nets.

But marine conservation groups warned that the death toll was still too high and more needed to be done. The Pilbara trawl fishery is worth $7.5 million a year and is vital in providing fresh fish such as bluespot emperor, flagfish, spangled emperor, rankin cod and red emperor to the WA market. The industry argues that the use of trawl nets in waters between Point Samson and Port Hedland, which last year produced about 2200 tonnes of scalefish, is the only viable option for fishing the region.

WA Wilderness Society marine coordinator Dr Jill StJohn said despite vast improvements by the industry to reduce the dolphin bycatch, the mortality rate per tonne of fish caught in the Pilbara trawl fishery was among the highest in the world. She said the Pilbara fishery was near big populations of dolphins.

But WA Fishing Industry Council chief executive Graeme Stewart said techniques used to minimise dolphin bycatch were well advanced compared with other trawl fisheries internationally and more was being done.

Dolphin deaths in the Pilbara trawl fishery, which are reported in the department’s annual state of the fisheries report, have fallen from 52 in 2005, to 31 in 2006 and 20 last year. Since March 2006, devices to prevent dolphins being trapped have been made compulsory.

Mr Stewart said the aim was to reduce deaths further, but dolphin behaviour remained a mystery. Video footage had shown that dolphins regularly swam in and out of the nets to feed. Occasionally a dead dolphin was found but researchers could not determine the cause of death. Department spokesman Andrew Cribb said skippers were required to keep logbooks on interaction with protected species.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"