supplying the fish we eat are killing dolphins so fast that they are heading
Monbiot, published in the Guardian 12th March 2020
people want dolphins killed? Apart from the psychopath shooting them in Florida, and the
Japanese hunters slaughtering them every year in Taiji Cove, I would hazard a
guess at none. They are perhaps the world’s most-loved wild animals. Yet, every
day, dolphin killers form an orderly queue, at supermarket checkouts in the UK
and around the world. If you are buying fish, and there is no clear and
watertight guarantee, you are likely to be complicit in something that would
A horrifying report last week
shows that dolphin numbers in the Indian Ocean have fallen by some 87% since
1980, as they’ve been drowned in gillnets set for tuna. But the problem is not
confined to distant seas, or to tuna fisheries. On average, two dolphins or porpoises are
washed up on UK beaches every day. Many of them show the scrapes and
indentations caused by fishing nets. Discoveries of dead dolphins around the Bay of Biscay this year
are likely to beat the grisly record set in 2019, when 1,100 were found on the French coast. Large numbers are also turning up on the beaches of Ireland.
dolphin or porpoise that washes up dead has been killed by the fishing industry.
Infections are more prevalent than they were before, perhaps as a result of
persistent synthetic chemicals accumulating in the animals’ tissues and
suppressing their immune systems. But in many places, including the Bay of
Biscay, Ireland and probably the English Channel, industrial fishing appears to
be the biggest cause.
dolphins found on the shore are likely to be a small proportion of the total
killed. Most corpses sink or drift out to sea. Because the slaughter is
deliberately unrecorded by European governments, we have only rough guesses
about how many might be dying. One scientific estimate suggests
that around one eighth of the slaughtered dolphins are likely to appear on
beaches. Dolphins are long-lived and reproduce slowly. In the north Atlantic,
the common dolphin calves only about once every four years. The
unquantified mass slaughter caused by fishing boats, if it is allowed to
continue, is likely soon to drive them to extinction.
commercial fishing presents a threat to dolphins and porpoises. But some
techniques are more lethal than others. While gillnets kill large numbers of
porpoises, and all kinds of trawling and purse seining endanger dolphins,
there’s a particularly strong correlation between dolphin deaths and two types
of fishing: pair trawlers catching bass, and supertrawlers pursuing small,
trawlers (two boats pulling a net between them) move much faster than single
trawlers. Supertrawlers – ships 100 metres or more in length – tow gigantic
nets that scoop up entire shoals, and the predators hunting them. Because these
ships tend to pursue species used for making the pellets fed to farmed fish –
such as salmon, bass, halibut and prawns – scarcely any species on sale today
can be safely dissociated from dolphin killing. Campaigners around the coasts of Britain and Ireland connect
spikes in dead dolphins with the appearance of supertrawlers.
governments of the EU and the UK are deliberately failing to stop this
massacre. They know their system for monitoring dolphin killing is useless. It
consists of placing human observers on around
1% of fishing vessels, and only with the consent of the vessel master.
Inevitably, the boats most responsible for the problem tend to be the least
monitored. For a quarter of the price of this useless and outdated system, every boat could be fitted with
remote monitoring equipment and CCTV. But they refuse to enter the 21st
the campaign group Sea Shepherd sailed into this regulatory chasm, and filmed a
French trawler in the Bay of Biscay hauling a dead dolphin onto its
deck. The official response? The president of Brittany’s fisheries committee characterised the filming as
the European Commission nor the UK government, to judge by the current draft of
the Fisheries Bill, intends
to put this right. Their refusal properly to monitor or regulate the industry
amounts to an intentional and systematic cover-up.
measures required to protect dolphins are similar to the measures required to
allow fish populations to recover. Large zones should be declared closed to all
fishing. Instead, almost all our “marine conservation zones” can be legally ploughed by
trawlers throughout the year. They are meaningless paper parks. Other areas
should be closed at certain seasons, when dolphins congregate.
policy should begin with the protection of dolphins and other vulnerable
species, and then decide where and how fishing vessels can still operate. But
the opposite approach is taken: allow fishing boats to work almost everywhere,
unmonitored and scarcely controlled, then wonder what to do about the dead
dolphins. The grip of the fishing industry on government policy remains as
powerful and mysterious as ever.
any difference between the accidental but inevitable mass killing of dolphins
by the fishing industry, and the deliberate annual massacre in Japan, that
rightly causes such public outrage? If something is morally wrong, no amount of
money can make it morally right. The slaughter of dolphins and other
magnificent wildlife is, on any measure, morally wrong.
agree, there’s a simple answer. Stop buying fish. Until the industry has been
contained, and its devastating impacts ended, we should withdraw our consent. Otherwise,
we too are the killers.