Fishing: Super trawler Margiris roams the English Channel
And one of the vessels, the Netherlands-registered Dirk Dirk, was previously the subject of an investigation into claims it caused the deaths of fur seals, albatross and dolphins, and that it even netted an enormous whale shark at one point. The huge factory vessels, variously flagged in Germany, France and the Netherlands, are regular visitors to UK waters. And while there is no indication they are operating illegally, conservationists claim they are responsible for record numbers of cetaceans washing up on Britain’s beaches, especially in Sussex.
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Thea Taylor, co-lead of the Brighton Dolphin Project (BDP), said: “There are currently nine supertrawlers in the Channel off Sussex. The first arrived on November 18th and there have been at least two factory ships in the Channel ever since, fishing legally.
“One supertrawler can catch hundreds of tonnes of fish per day, using nets a mile long. The biggest vessel has a carrying capacity of 6400 tonnes (dwt).
“Between them, these supertrawlers have not only caught masses of their target fish species but tonnes of fish and marine life that they do not want, including marine mammals.
“These are usually ground down for animal feed or thrown back dead as bycatch. We see a surge in dead dolphins on Sussex beaches when the Supertrawlers are here or during the weeks after.
“Although the UK Government already recognises cetacean species to be protected by law, bycatch caused by factory trawlers continues and requires a global response to sustainably manage fish resources and reduce destructive marine activity. We have the opportunity to lead a worldwide change.”
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A Facebook post by the organisation, set up to celebrate the cultural heritage which Brighton has with dolphins, added: “There are now an unprecedented NINE wildlife-killing supertrawlers off the UK south coast. Factory vessel Helen Mary joined Alida, Carolien, Frank Bonefaas, Scombrus, Annie Hillina, Afrika, Dirk Dirk and Prins Bernhard in the confines of the English Channel today.
“Is this some kind of Brexit statement?
“These pelagic trawlers carry NO onboard observers, NO remote CCTV and to our knowledge, they have NOT been inspected by fisheries authorities. How on earth do we know what these floating factories are catching in their nets?”
The post added: “A land-based industry would not be allowed to operate with so little oversight, let alone an industry that kills and processes wild animals.
“We do KNOW that these massive vessels kill huge amounts of wildlife.
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“Supertrawler Dirk Dirk, formerly known as Geelong Star, was forced to leave Australian waters after it killed and injured protected dolphins, seals, albatrosses and a whale shark in its nets. Enough is enough.”
The BDA also shared an analysis indicating 13 instances in which dolphins found washed up on Sussex beaches had coincided with the presence of supertrawlers in the area since October 2019.
The only one of the named vessels which is flagged in the UK is the Frank Bonefaas.
Like the Dirk Dirk, the Alida, the Carolien and the Afrika are Dutch-flagged, the Helen Mary and Annie Hillina are flagged to Germany while the Scombrus and the Prins Bernhard are flagged to France.
The Pelagic Fishing Association (PFA), which represents many of the supertrawlers, disputes accusations it is responsible for the wildlife deaths, stressing a lack of proof.
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In a statement issued in March, PFA President Gerard van Balsfoort said: “Last year we have introduced the latest generation pingers on part of our fleet to test their effectiveness.
“In light of the results so far, we have decided to apply these pingers on the entire PFA-fleet aiming at the avoidance of any incidental bycatch of dolphins to the highest possible extent.”
Matthew Cox, CEO of the North Atlantic Fishing Company, which owns the Frank Bonefaas, told Express.co.uk: “The North Atlantic Fishing Company has an excellent record of avoiding catches of dolphins, however we continue to work towards the best and highest standards of maritime sustainability.
“We are have also issued an invitation to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to witness our fishing practices and to learn more about the cetacean avoidance mechanisms that we are using.”
Nevertheless, environmental campaigners Greenpeace have also highlighted the operations of supertrawlers, many of them from EU countries, as well as others from Russia, this year.
A Greenpeace analysis indicates in the first six months of 2020, 23 vessels spent 5590 hours fishing in 19 protected areas.
Chris Thorne, an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, told Express.co.uk today: “Our Government promised that on the 1st of January, we would leave the Common Fisheries Policy and ‘take back control’ of our seas, letting us put in place new world-leading marine protection standards.
“January the 1st is now just weeks away and the situation in the English Channel is a world away from this promise. Some of the biggest supertrawlers on earth are stalking the Channel right now, hoovering up vast quantities of fish, including in protected areas, with the blessings of our Government. Is this what taking back control looks like?
“These vast, destructive fishing vessels have no place operating in our most important and sensitive marine areas. Even the presence of one is too many, let alone nine operating in the confines of the Channel.
“Our Government must use its new post-Brexit powers to ban supertrawlers from operating in all of the UK’s protected areas, no matter what flag they fly, and it should also take a long hard look at whether supertrawler operations are compatible at all with healthy oceans here in the UK.”
A Defra spokesman said: “The UK is a global leader in the fight to protect our seas with our ‘Blue Belt’ of protected waters nearly twice the size of England.
“The Common Fisheries Policy currently restricts our ability to implement tougher protection, but leaving the EU and taking back control of our waters as an independent coastal state means we can introduce stronger measures.”
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