Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Dishonesty sans frontiers

There really is something odious about fisheries minister Ben Bradshaw - something creepy and dishonest in a way that puts him in a class of his own.

Having had a rebuff from the EU commission when, at the beginning of this month, he asked it to ban pair trawling off the South West in order to reduce the carnage amongst the cetacean population, yesterday he announced that he was going ahead with a unilateral ban.

This, we understand from Charles Clover’s piece in today’s Daily Telegraph was revealed by the odious Bradshaw at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, whence he also informed his no doubt adoring audience that with would apply only to vessels within the British 12-mile limit.

Yet, anyone who knows that fishery, and anything of the Dolphin by-catch problem, will also know that by far the majority of deaths occur in the waters outside the 12-mile limit, and are largely attributable to the large, French trawlers which exploit the Bass fishery.

And, if there is anyone who should know that, it is Ben Bradshaw. Thus, his "unilateral ban" will affect a limited number of small British boats, have no effect whatsoever on the French, and not reduce Dolphin deaths one whit. This is simple gesture politics of the worst kind, largely aimed at giving the impression that our fisheries minister still has some power, when anything that matters has gone to the EU.

Almost as bad as Bradshaw were the token conservationists. Phyllis Campbell-McRae of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which organised the fringe meeting, actually congratulated Bradshaw on taking a "tough decision". Ali Ross of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said that it was "a very important political gesture" and Joan Edwards, of the Wildlife Trusts, said: "I'm really pleased", although she did add that "the same number of dolphins are going to be caught next year unless similar action is taken within the Common Fisheries Policy." Too right dear.

It actually took the BBC, rather than the all-knowing Charles Clover, to give voice to a dissenter, in the form of Jim Portus, from the South Western Fish Producers' Organisation.

Rightly, he said it was a tiny step which would have little impact, making exactly the point we made in our earlier Blogs on the subject, that Bradshaw’s action simply proved "…how powerless the minister is in Brussels when clearly the only answer is an international regulation to seek protection of the dolphin stocks." "I don't think it will actually have any impact whatsoever on the dolphin population," he added.

And it was not only Portus. Lindy Hingley, from Brixham Seawatch, said it was a welcome step but ""It really won't save many dolphins lives at all."

The Scotsman also weighed in with a robust statement from environmental charity Greenpeace, whose spokesman said Bradshaw’s move would achieve "next to nothing" because very little trawling takes place within the 12-mile zone. Willie MacKenzie, Greenpeace oceans campaigner, said: "Bradshaw may as well have announced a ban on pair trawling in village ponds for all the dolphins this meaningless decision will save."

Even the RSPCA, not known for its concern for animal welfare, warned that dolphins would continue to die unless the EU follows the UK’s lead. Laila Sadler, scientific officer with the animal charity, said: "We cannot forget that the UK bass fishery, which is killing dolphins in its trawls, consists of just four boats while the French fishery may have up to 20 in the area. "Indeed", she observed, "the peak of dolphin deaths corresponds to high levels of fishing by other European boats."

So where does that leave Bradshaw? In the DEFRA press release he says, "I have always maintained that we must take firm action to reduce injury and death to dolphins from this fishery… The UK Government has been at the forefront of the campaign within Europe to encourage Member States to act jointly to protect the wider marine environment. Indeed, I am grateful for the European Commission's recent commitment to find the means to reduce dolphin by-catch".

This is dishonesty sans frontiers.

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