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EU moves to reduce cetacean bycatch, with full support of experts

An important Resolution calling for better monitoring and mitigation of porpoises, dolphins, seals and whales being caught in fishing gear (or bycatch) was approved at the European Cetacean Society (ECS) conference in Madeira this week. The ECS bycatch Resolution was initiated and drafted by WDC, with input from regional cetacean and bycatch experts. It follows decades of inadequate monitoring and mitigation of EU fisheries to prevent the deaths of unknown numbers, but likely thousands of marine mammals, in fishing gear. It’s a terrible way for a marine mammal to die. This Resolution follows hot on the heels of an EU Commission fisheries Proposal, which will bring the currently inadequate measures up to date. 

The ECS Resolution urges Member States to urgently adopt and enforce regulations to include strong measures to enable effective and ongoing reduction of cetacean and seal bycatch.

The ECS Resolution calls for adequate monitoring (including better effort reporting, observer monitoring and compliance, ongoing annual Member State reporting); better mitigation measures (including in all set-net fisheries and pelagic trawl fisheries targeting tuna, bass and hake and fisheries using very high vertical opening (VHVO) trawls, irrespective of vessel size or geographic area); it specifies that exemptions should be made for those fisheries with demonstrated negligible rate and/or cumulative bycatch, bearing in mind regional differences; and, more broadly, it urges consideration of other anthropogenic removals in addition to bycatch.

The ECS Resolution came about following publication of a very welcome Proposal for new and better regulation of European fisheries by the European Commission. The proposal states “Member States should put in place mitigation measures to minimise and where possible eliminate the catches of those species (marine mammals, seabirds and marine reptiles) from fishing gears.” The Proposal must now be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council and shaped into regional fisheries plans. These plans must ensure that measures are implemented to reduce the bycatch of porpoises, dolphins, seals and whales and that these continue to decrease over time.

It looks like the reformed Common Fisheries Policy might finally be working for the wider protection and conservation of marine mammals in European waters. And it’s not before time.