Sussex dolphin charity launch new campaign

Sussex Dolphin Project has launched a campaign to save hundreds of dolphins that are killed each year by supertrawlers.

The group has joined forces with the World Cetacean Alliance to create the ‘Dolphins Aren’t Discard’ campaign.

The campaign spokesperson said, “The campaign is focused on our belief that hundreds of dolphins are killed every year as the result of giant factory ships (95 metres+) Pelagic trawling (mid-water not bottom trawling) waters around the UK.

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Sussex Dolphin Project (SDP) recorded 17 dead cetaceans – the aquatic mammal family consisting of whales/dolphins/porpoise – on local beaches in 2020, during the period that supertrawlers were fishing in the channel off the Sussex coast. This is compared to just two for the rest of the year when there was no supertrawler activity.

Bottlenose dolphin swimming near Rampion Wind Farm, Newhaven (photo by Marina Lewis-King) SUS-210312-090206001

The spokesperson said, “Since only 10 per cent of bodies wash up on shore, we estimate the true figure to be closer to 170 bycatch-related deaths in Sussex alone.”

According to SDP, supertrawlers from around the world are legally allowed to fish in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone but since they don’t fish within territorial waters – within 12 miles of shore – they aren’t held to the same level of legislation as the UK’s own local, sustainable fishing community.

The campaign wants greater transparency and stronger legislation to uncover the true scale of the issue.

Thea Taylor, SDP lead, said, “The time periods when supertrawlers are fishing in the channel see a marked increase in the number of deceased cetaceans washing up on Sussex beaches, many of them with clear signs of being victims of bycatch.

Common dolphin found on Lancing beach. Photo from Sussex Dolphin Project. SUS-210312-090155001

“We’re working with the World Cetacean Alliance to call for greater transparency and stronger legislation of supertrawler activity in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). We hope this will allow us to identify the true scale of the issue and fully address this unsustainable fishing method.

“Supertrawlers are huge factory ships measuring up to 144 metres long, with nets the size of 450 tennis courts capable of catching thousands of tonnes of fish per trip, yet they target very specific pelagic (midwater) fish species.

“It’s unclear how such massive nets can fish sustainably without detrimental impact on other marine species, the wider marine ecosystem and of course our local sustainable fishing community.”

Harry Eckman, CEO of the World Cetacean Alliance, said, “This is an issue that personally and deeply affects the WCA. While bycatch is a global issue, dolphins don’t just die in other places. There are bodies of dolphins - victims of supertrawler bycatch - washing up on the shoreline directly where the WCA office is based.

Dolphins Aren't Discard campaign. Photo from Sussex Dolphin Project. SUS-210212-165442001

“We need to hold the industry accountable, and stop dolphins, whales and all other marine animals that die in these nets, from continuing to be victims of supertrawler bycatch.”

Local inshore fishers are also getting involved with the campaign including Graham Doswell.

Graham, an Eastbourne fisherman, is the director of Eastbourne Under 10 Fisherman’s CiC, which has developed the facilities for the Eastbourne inshore fleet on the Quayside at Sovereign Harbour.

He said, “I’ve been an inshore fisherman for over 50 years following on from my father and grandfather before me. I don’t understand why these industrial ships have such free reign, with little in the way of checks and monitoring, while the fishing community inshore are held to such high account on each fish.

“Supertrawlers must have a huge impact on marine life by decimating fish species that form a vital part of a balanced ecosystem. This also impacts the fisheries inshore.

“Take Herring as an example, which is a crucial Sussex inshore fishery and has been for many years. In the past, many of the local boats would follow the Herring shoals down to the west country but today Herring numbers have fallen dramatically and there are only a few boats able to catch them.

“Our inshore boats burn little fuel, use light gear that targets fish precisely, and our catch can be traced from net to plate. We fish sustainably, which is exactly the opposite of the Supertrawlers, yet they are allowed to continue unchecked.”