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Media Release: Dolphins and seals in danger from pair trawling

Thu 9 February 2017

Dolphin killed by pair-trawling in the UK. © Greenpeace / Gavin Newman

Dolphin killed by pair-trawling in the UK. © Greenpeace / Gavin Newman

A lethal fishing method, banned in parts of the UK for over a decade due to dolphin deaths, could be allowed in Australian waters if permission is granted by the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA). The deadline for public comment on this permit is this Friday 10th February.

Pair trawling poses a threat to marine life equal to the deadly Geelong Star super trawler. The AFMA fishing permit is being sought for boats to operate in what is referred to as the ‘Small Pelagic Fishery’ which covers a biodiversity rich stretch of Australia’s oceans from Perth to Queensland.

“Super trawlers in this fishery like the Geelong Star have been plagued by repeated deaths of protected species like dolphins and seals in their nets – also coming into conflict with other ocean users like recreational fishers and tourism operators,” explains Australian Marine Conservation Society Fisheries Campaigner Josh Coates. “Now we see a new threat to our ocean life in the form of pair trawling.”

“This destructive fishing practice involves towing large nets between two boats at higher speeds than possible with one boat – which makes it even harder for marine mammals like dolphins and seals to escape. Fast large nets can also lead to localised over-fishing of target species which impacts the food chain, recreational fishing and tourism opportunities. Allowing this form of fishing into Australian waters would set a damaging new precedent,” said Coates.

Captured animals can endure high stress and severe injury in these nets – including deep cuts, broken teeth, beaks and jaws, and even tail amputations or drowning.Globally over 308,000 whales and dolphins die as a result of being entangled in fishing nets each year – the single biggest cetacean killer – according to the International Whaling Commission.

Dr Cat Dorey, an Australian Marine Conservation Society Sea Guardian (and Science Advisor for Greenpeace International) witnessed the horrors of pair trawling personally in January 2004, as part of an investigation team in UK waters – which contributed to a ban in 2005.

“For the first few weeks the experience was magical. It was my first time at sea and I never tired of seeing pods of common dolphins, often with their young, appear from nowhere and swim towards us, racing alongside the ship and leaping in the bow waves,” Dr Dorey remembers. “But that magic soon turned to horror.

“The team found the main fishing ground – and with it dead dolphins floating belly up, still warm, and with horrific injuries. Torn and bloody beaks and fins, hundreds of scratches from nets and spikey seabass fins were the awful evidence of a painful death by drowning in pair-trawl nets.

“It was horrific, and the public were outraged - these much-love dolphins were supposed to be protected. I never want to see pair-trawlers in Aussie waters, not when I've seen first-hand what they can do to dolphins, or any other sea life that gets in the way,” said Dr Dorey.

“To allow this form of fishing into Australian waters would be a dangerous precedent and a major step backwards for fisheries in Australia,” added Coates.

“We cannot afford the increased risk to our marine life that pair trawling represents.”

The Australian Marine Conservation Society calls for AFMA to reject this recent application and not allow pair trawling into Australian waters.

Image: Dolphin killed by pair-trawling in the UK. © Greenpeace / Gavin Newman

Interviews and images available on request.


For further information, please contact: 

Media and Communications, Australian Marine Conservation Society

+61 (0) 412 505 405,   

Josh Coates, Fisheries and Sustainable Seafood Campaigner - Australian Marine Conservation Society

+61 (0) 438 805 284,

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