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UK leads the way to halt alarming number of EU fishing fleet dolphin deaths

8 February 2018

Eight UK based marine campaigning charities, with ten of their EU counterparts[1], are urging the French, Spanish and Irish Governments to take urgent action to cut alarming numbers of dolphin and porpoise deaths caused by their fishing fleets in and around UK waters.

Scientists are very concerned by the numbers of dead common dolphins and porpoises washing up on our shores each year. They are worried that the numbers of deaths is excessively high due to poor practices by other nations’ fishing fleets in and around UK water, including the Spanish, French and Irish fleets.[2]

  • In Ireland the number of dead and dying dolphins found stranded on their coasts has soared by over 150% since 20103 and action by the Irish Government on this issue is inconsistent
  • Spain has high numbers of fishing-related porpoise and dolphin deaths, the Galician coast alone has around 1700 deaths per year. The Spanish Government is not fulfilling EU legal requirements to monitor the catching of dolphins by their fleets4
  • France is monitoring bycatch but is doing little to reduce the numbers caught and killed
Sarah Baulch, Oceans Campaigner at the Environment Investigations Agency, said: ‘Every winter dead common dolphins wash up on our shores showing the tell-tale signs of having been caught in fishing gear. These animals will have suffered painful and prolonged deaths at the hands of fishing nets.

‘While the UK fishing fleet strives to do what is required under EU rules, unfortunately the same cannot be said of EU fishing vessels in and around our waters. We need urgent action from Spain, France, Ireland and other nations fishing in this region to end these continuous dolphin deaths. And the measures in place need to be strengthened, so we can begin to reduce the deaths of dolphins towards zero.

‘We also urge the UK Government to take the opportunity leaving the EU offers to be a world-leader and create fit-for-purpose bycatch laws that can be enforced on any fleet fishing in our waters.’

Bycatch occurs in UK waters, from our own and other fishing fleets. About a thousand harbour porpoises and many hundreds of common dolphins die each year in UK static and mobile fishing gear in UK waters.

Although bycatch from UK vessels remains concerning, in a recent study by Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the UK came out on top for implementing EU bycatch regulations including the use of acoustic deterrent devices. The UK is the only EU country fulfilling its legal responsibilities under current EU regulations, commitments under ASCOBANS, and obligations under the Habitats Directive. The UK also has more measures in place to mitigate preventable dolphin and porpoise deaths than in other EU states, such as: dolphin dissuasive devices; a monitoring programme; and a ban on certain trawling methods. 5

The marine charities are calling on the Spanish, French and Irish Governments, along with the UK Government, to live up to their legal responsibilities and take further steps to reduce, and where possible eliminate, these unnecessary porpoise and dolphin deaths. They have written to the Spanish, French and Irish Governments today to ask for them to take necessary measures including:

  • Better monitoring and evaluation of bycatch of dolphins and porpoises by Spanish, French and Irish fishing fleets, for example, using remote electronic monitoring, which allows oversight of the volume of dolphins and porpoises being caught. Monitoring should include pelagic freezer trawlers, hake bottom-set gillnets, high vertical opening trawl fisheries6, and sea bass pair trawl fisheries. Many of these are not covered by existing regulations and are believed to be responsible for potentially thousands of these deaths each year;
  • Reducing deaths by introducing measures such as: spatial measures, acoustic deterrent devices which may discourage dolphins and porpoises from approaching fishing gear, and banning the most dangerous fishing nets for cetaceans


Notes to Editors:

  1. The marine organisations supporting these calls are:UK: EIA, , Humane Society International-UK, ORCA, MARINELife, , RSPB, RSPCA, Whales and Dolphin Conservation, Wildlife and Countryside Link, Ireland: Irish Whale and Dolphin Group France: France Nature EnvironnementSpain: AMBAR, Ecologistas en Acción, FAADA, Fundació ENT, Marefondum, Plataforma “El Chorlitejo”, PROMAR, Red de varamientos DELPHIS
  2. The full scale of the problem is unknown, but high volumes of dolphin deaths have been recorded, for example 700-800 stranded common dolphins washed ashore on French beaches between February and March 2017 which demonstrates a serious regional bycatch issue, with several thousand dolphins calculated as having been caught.
  3. January and February are the worst months of the year for strandings. Between 1 Jan to 17 Feb 2017 56 cetacean strandings were recorded in Ireland with 29 (52%) of these identified as common dolphins. Previously, 2013 had the highest number of strandings early in the year with 48 records to 17 Feb of which 28 (58%) were common dolphins. In the years prior to 2010, average numbers of strandings at this time of year were around 22 of which 5 would have been common dolphins. Source: Irish Whale and Dolphin Group
  4. Estimates of deaths in Goetz, S., Read, F.L., Santos, M.B., Pita, C. and Pierce, G.J. 2014. Cetacean-fishery interactions in Galicia (NW Spain): results and management implications of a face-to-face interview survey of local fishers. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 71: 604–617. Cetacean Bycatch Monitoring and Mitigation under EC Regulation 812/2004 in the Northeast Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic Sea from 2006 to 2014. Fiona L. Read, Peter G.H. Evans and Sarah J. Dolman. 2017. PG 48.
  5. Measures currently in place in the UK to reduce cetacean bycatch include:
    • Acoustic deterrent devices (ADD) and dolphin deterrent devices (DDD) – otherwise known as pingers. These devices are attached to fishing nets and emit ultrasound noise to deter cetaceans from the net. The noises are randomised, so the cetaceans do not become used to them. The Fishtek banana pinger claims to reduce bycatch of small cetaceans by 82%
    • A comprehensive monitoring programme is in place for bycatch through the Defra funded, Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP). CSIP monitor and investigate all reported strandings in England and Wales
    • Ban on seabass trawling within 12 nautical miles from the coast. This was introduced to reduce dolphin bycatch. However, this is only applicable to the UK fishing fleet as it is a UK law. Therefore, other EU fishing fleets continue to use this dangerous trawling practice in our waters
  6. High vertical opening trawls are used for fishing in large parts of the water column. Understanding Fisheries Technical Rules, pg 14.

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