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Posted on Sunday, September 17, 2000 - 03:39 pm:   

Fishing net 'pinger' device could cut porpoise deaths
James Meikle

Saturday September 9, 2000

Fishermen may soon have to fit porpoise scarers to their boats to help end the destruction of thousands of marine mammals entangled in their gear.

Trials of battery operated underwater "pingers" attached to long nets which are set on the seabed to catch cod and hake have proved so successful at scaring shy harbour porpoises away that the EU is to discuss making them compulsory.

Some boats might need as many as 160 of the devices, each the size of a soft drinks can and costing about £30, to deter the porpoises from feeding in the area when their nets are down.

Porpoises cannot return to the surface to breathe - which they need to do about every four minutes - if they become entangled.

Pingers are already used along the US coasts and tests suggest they would work on this side of the Atlantic. Fishermen from Newlyn, Cornwall, and three Irish ports volunteered for EU-funded trials of pingers led by the sea mammal research unit at St Andrews University, Fife.

Research in the Celtic sea in the early 1990s suggested that 2,200 harbour porpoises, or about 6% of the population, were accidentally killed in fishing nets. The pingers emit sounds every four seconds. These can be heard by humans but also have ultrasonic harmonics.

Andrew Wheeler, of the Cornish Fish Producers' Association, said: "No one wants to catch porpoises. They have no commercial benefit. It is nothing but aggravation. If we can avoid catching them, we will look at it, as long as it is not too much of a cost."

Elliot Morley, the fisheries minister, said the UK had stressed the importance of the trial results with the EU.

"The issue of porpoise by-catch is an international problem and we have to tackle it on an EU basis."

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