In a testament to the utter powerlessness of British fisheries ministers, and the vacuity of the media, the Western Morning News was yesterday claiming "a major victory". It had secured a commitment from fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw that he would "press the EU commission to implement an emergency closure of the winter bass fishery off the West Country coast".
The action is urgently needed to prevent pair trawlers (mostly French) continuing the carnage of porpoises and dolphins – estimated at 2-4,5000 a year - after government trials of so-called "dolphin-friendly" nets had failed to halt the killing.
Concern has centred on pair trawling, in which two powerful trawlers tow a giant net between them in the lucrative hunt for bass. Ministers had hoped to avoid a ban by encouraging fishermen to use new nets incorporating an "escape hatch" that would allow dolphins to swim free.
Observers watching trials of the nets off the West Country coast last winter were horrified to see that at least 169 dolphins were caught by just two pairsof Scottish boats using them - a figure Bradshaw described as "unacceptable".
But the central point – which seems to have escaped campaigners - is that this fishery is in British waters and, had we still power over our own fishery, Bradshaw could simply have issued the order and the waters would have been closed. But, as it is, all he can do is go bleating to Brussels, in the hope that the 24 other ministers on the Fisheries Council will listen to him, and the commission will agree to come up with some proposals. That will be in September at the earliest.
To underline Bradshaw’s lack of power, he indicated yesterday that he would take unilateral action if the Commission failed to agree a ban but, under EU law, he only has powers to ban the small number of Scottish boats that take part in the fishery and to close it within the UK's coastal limits. The bulk of the fishery is outside these waters, but still in the British EEZ, but it is dominated by the French and Danish fleets, which Bradshaw cannot touch.
Despite this, "conservationists", are hailing Bradshaw’s pathetic non-move as "a major step forward". Lindy Hingley, founder of the conservation group Brixham Seawatch, welcomed Bradshaw’s non-action, saying "It is a major step in the right direction and a victory for everyone who cares about these beautiful creatures."
Furthermore, Bradshaw’s lack of action follows in a long line of inaction by Labour fisheries ministers. As early as June 2000, Elliot Morley, aka Morally, speaking on Newsnight, admitted to "breakthrough" evidence of dolphins being killed. He told the programme "What we have got as far as I am concerned is enough to take action and we intend to do that."
No action followed and, four years later, there is still no action. Yet the "conservationists" are still hailing their "victory". What is wrong with these people?