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Opportunity lost in EU Ministers bycatch vote

On Tuesday there was an important vote in the European Parliament Fisheries Committee about fisheries conservation measures including future bycatch measures for dolphins, porpoises and whales. Here is a summary of what happened in the vote on bycatch

The existing (inadequate) rules for monitoring and mitigating dolphin and porpoise bycatch remain intact for now and most importantly, efforts by some MEPs to remove existing bycatch measures in the Baltic Sea and South Western Waters (off Spain and Portugal) were rejected. Both of these regions contain genetically distinct and declining populations of harbour porpoises, due to being incidentally caught in fishing gear, so they need all the protection that they can get. Both porpoise populations are in a perilous state and are in desperate need of better protection from fishing nets, so fending off efforts to remove existing, wholly inadequate protection seem to me like a very hollow victory. 

Bycatch measures that the Commission proposed for the >12 metre fishing vessels deploying static fishing gear in the Mediterranean and Black Sea to use acoustic deterrent devices to scare marine mammals away from nets also remain intact.

However, this was a real lost opportunity for the EU Fisheries Ministers to improve the existing bycatch measures and to expand the measures to include other protected species that die in large numbers in some European fisheries, such as seals and seabirds. Further, efforts to consider the welfare implications of bycatch were rejected. The requirement under the EU Habitats Directive is to offer dolphins, porpoises and whales “strict protection” and yet, existing bycatch laws are certainly not protecting them adequately. 

There was a general and serious weakening of language throughout the file for all fisheries measures, and a very disappointing move away from science and conservation. Here’s what our colleagues at Seas at RiskClientEarth and Bird Life had to say about the proposed new rules.

In a lucky twist, at the end of the session, the Fisheries Committee surprisingly voted for the adopted report to be presented to European Parliament Plenary for a vote, so we very much welcome this additional level of transparency and a further opportunity for engagement. The outcome of the Plenary vote will then form the basis of future trilogue negotiations.

Overall, this was a dark day for Europe’s marine environment. I hope some improvements can be made at Plenary because too many species needlessly die in fishing gear every year.

Please support our work to end the needless deaths of whales and dolphins in fishing gear and nets.