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European fishing continues to threaten dolphins and porpoises

Fishing activities involving pelagic trawling and static net fisheries may be incidentally killing more common dolphins than their populations can sustain in European waters. Despite being shocking, this is not new news. From data collected in 2014, ICES (the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) reports that bycatch of cetaceans has been observed in other gears that have not been subjected to regular monitoring (including bottom trawls, also known to catch common dolphins). Purse-seine nets may be accidentally catching more critically endangered Balearic shearwaters than the population can cope with.  

ICES produce a European marine mammal bycatch report every year. It always makes for gruesome reading and each year I wonder why we can’t do better to catch fish without also accidentally catching large numbers of dolphins, harbour porpoises, seals and seabirds in the nets and on the hooks.

There are rules in place in Europe that require countries to monitor how many marine animals are caught – in some kinds of fishing nets. Some countries didn’t report 2014 data to ICES, including Finland and Spain. A number of other countries provided sub-standard data.

Without adequate data, and so considering existing data biases, it is difficult to understand levels of bycatch, and so the vicious bycatch cycle continues. There are uncertainties in the fishing effort data itself, as well as the marine mammal bycatch data.

The rules that are in place do not work well enough. New rules will be put in place in the coming months and years under the EU’s Data Collection Framework. WDC are doing all we can to ensure that all countries in Europe collect the data that is required to understand fishing effort and levels of bycatch.

ICES advises in its report that dedicated observers or Remote Electronic Monitoring (see this recent REM report) are required for good estimates of protected species bycatch. WDC support this call. Countries need to put measures in place to collect data on fishing effort and bycatch – in all types of fisheries.

We are also demanding ongoing efforts to continually reduce bycatch. It is not enough to consider population level impacts. Being caught in a net is a horrible way for any animal to die. We also want more transparency, so that we can make decisions when we buy fish from our fishmonger or in the supermarket about the way our fish was caught and the sustainability of the fish stock, but also information about other marine species that may be incidentally caught in the process.