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Volume 401: debated on Wednesday 19 March 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what recent estimates the Government has made of dolphin bycatch deaths in UK fishing waters; [102789](2)what measures the Government plans to introduce to reduce incidents of dolphin bycatch by UK fishing boats. [102761]

The Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) on behalf of Defra has carried out sample surveys of fisheries implicated in the bycatch of dolphins. These surveys have indicated a problem in the offshore bass fishery where the pair trawling teams monitored caught dolphins at a rate of approximately one every three hauls. However, bycatch information from other member states whose vessels operate in this fishery and elsewhere in UK waters is not available so it is not possible to produce reliable estimates of dolphin bycatch deaths in UK waters.This reinforces the need for action on the part of all member states involved in the fisheries concerned and the Commission if measures to reduce dolphin deaths are to be effective. This is why we raised the need for urgent action at the January Council of Ministers' meeting. I have also raised this issue with Commissioner Fischler on a number of occasions both in writing and in personal contacts. I have also recently written to the Commission to press for urgent action to widen observer coverage off the South West coast where a number of other Member States' vessels fish. I was pleased that the Commission included a commitment to take action in this area in papers produced as part of the recent reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. I am looking for positive action on this in response to our recent approaches.In the meantime, Defra has also committed some £140,000 for trials into the use of exclusion devices developed by the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)to reduce the bycatch of cetaceans in the offshore bass fishery. I will also, along with the devolved administrations, shortly be issuing a consultation document outlining a UK bycatch response strategy. This will set out the extent of our knowledge of bycatch in UK waters and make proposals for action to address the bycatch problem. The document will be laid in the Library of the House and I will ensure that my hon. Friend receives a personal copy.