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New EU fisheries law fails to stop dolphins dying in nets

MEPs voted today in favour of a new Regulation that includes measures intended to tackle the massive problem of dolphins, porpoises, seabirds and other protected species dying in fishing gear (also known as bycatch). But this new law falls short of what is urgently needed to turn around Europe’s dolphin bycatch problem and does very little that will actually improve the situation and reduce dolphin deaths.

Dead dolphin in a French driftnet
Dead dolphin in a French driftnet

The European Commission needs to step up action to ensure that existing requirements are met for monitoring on-board fishing vessels.  They need to collect enough data to understand bycatch levels accurately, and they must act to ensure EU Member States urgently develop strong national bycatch action plans to reduce the shameful numbers of dolphin and porpoise deaths.

Many thousands of dolphins and porpoises die in fishing gear in European waters every year. Scientific evidence, produced annually by the EU’s expert advisors, points to threatened and declining populations of harbour porpoises, common and bottlenose dolphins due to high levels of ongoing bycatch.

Following the vote, WDC’s Sarah Dolman commented: ‘Every European ocean, from the Bay of Biscay, Celtic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, sees thousands of dolphins and porpoises dying in fishing gear. The recent example of more than 1,000 dead common dolphins washing ashore along the French coastline, many showing the tell-tale and gruesome signs of fishing gear damage, is emblematic of a problem that is typically “out of sight, out of mind”.’

‘These dolphin deaths have gone on for decades – thousands every winter. With almost no bycatch monitoring occurring, nations can turn a blind eye. For example, we have been aware of the fishing activities that affect the common dolphin population since the 1990s, yet these fisheries are not being adequately monitored or managed to prevent bycatch. This is Europe’s shameful marine secret. This new law could have tackled this situation directly, but it doesn’t.’

For a number of years, experts have continually highlighted that Member States are not implementing the laws in place to protect dolphins and porpoises from nets, and that existing bycatch measures need to be strengthened. European Parliament has now ignored the evidence and the repeated recommendations for improvements that these experts have provided. Given the opportunity lost with this new law, it is more imperative than ever that the European Commission and national governments pay attention to the public outrage about the unnecessary dolphin bycatch in European waters and take action to stop these horrific and needless deaths.

Julia Pix

About Julia Pix

Communications manager - Public Engagement


  1. Avatar Meryll Green on 25th April 2019 at 6:14 pm

    The European Government is useless if they do not change laws that are killing dolphins and many other sea creature. They will not tackle the absolute cruelty to
    Spanish animals ie burning Bulls. Poor animals in the 21st century being killed by people who do not give a damn Europe is shown in a bad light.

  2. Avatar Marian Schubert on 25th April 2019 at 8:52 pm

    This is absolutely disgusting.
    If this were children or babies that were dying every action would be taken immediately.
    The only thing that interests or motivates them is MONEY!’

  3. Avatar Joan Sanger on 25th April 2019 at 9:23 pm

    Julia, what a tragedy. Why won’t these MEPs listen and act. Why do we have to lose so many dolphins and porpoises each year. They will soon be extinct. Can someone start a petition to present to the European Parliament re this matter? It is urgent.

  4. Avatar Renny Wodynska on 25th April 2019 at 10:08 pm

    Absolutely unforgivable. How many more will die whilst discussions continue?

  5. Avatar Freda Hendel on 25th April 2019 at 11:24 pm

    I am almost too disgusted to be able to comment but nevertheless will try for the sake of the whale and dolphin population. What pray do we have to do to impress upon the European Commission and national governments the urgent need to stop these dreadful deaths? Have we not wiped out enough species? It takes very little effort for those in power to prevent these beautiful creatures dying in their hundreds if not thousands. I read frequently of uanimals dying in Africa/India/South America and especially Japan where we Europeans and our respective governments are unable to help directly and critise those responsible. When this terrible problem is on our shores surely we should be setting an example to the rest of the world.

  6. Avatar Bob Bailey on 26th April 2019 at 9:31 am

    Money overcomes compassion.

  7. Avatar keith cooper on 26th April 2019 at 9:46 am

    This is barbaric, typical politicians all talk no do….totally gutless!

  8. Avatar Jackie Bodimead on 26th April 2019 at 9:47 am

    Elect our Green Party into the European Govt, then our MEPs will have something to say about this…

  9. Avatar Garvin Cadman on 26th April 2019 at 11:44 am

    This is typical of the EU. They do not care for the suffering and needless deaths of any animals as long as it suits their purpose and of course they do not want to upset the fishermen, because they know that the fishermen will cause havoc if their quotas are effected. Very weak willed MEP’s, they will do anything to have a quiet life !

  10. Avatar robert whybrow on 26th April 2019 at 6:23 pm

    the EU is not interested in animal welfare only trade deals, i found that out over the japan whaling , when i got a feble reply saying we needed the trade deal.

  11. Avatar catherine Mary Eileen stow on 27th April 2019 at 10:27 am

    A disgraceful decision by the EU.

  12. Avatar George Winston on 27th April 2019 at 2:01 pm

    We are about to go to the polls for European elections, what can we ask of the candidates about this gruesome bycatch situation ?

  13. Avatar siv white on 28th April 2019 at 11:53 pm


  14. Avatar Jacqueline Brown on 29th April 2019 at 7:04 am

    The EU needs to look at this again and put in place the legislation that affords dolphins protection from being caught in nets. But ideally industrial fishing needs to be consigned to the past. Our seas and oceans can only support sustainable fishing.

    Marine reserves need to established worldwide to protect dwindling fish stocks and other marine life. The EU should be leading the way on this. Our seas and oceans play an important role in the health of the planet and ultimately the fight to stop climate change.

  15. Avatar Nick Hook on 29th April 2019 at 8:58 am

    I constantly read stories from around the world about cetaceans being drowned and injured as ‘bycatch’ in fishing gear. The EU has again let the environment down. Our seas are in Europe are devastated by poor management and political decisions. It is about time we have people, who care about all sea life, making the decisions so desperately needed. The murder of cetaceans in European waters must stop now

  16. Avatar Vivienne Russell on 5th May 2019 at 4:00 pm

    Start a petition to get thousands of signatures so that these “head in the sand” politicians sit up and take notice. These deaths matter – it seems they don’t bother these people because it is under the sea and can’t be seen – but they do matter. A lot! It is not, however, surprising, as they still condone bull fighting, cock fighting and many other horrors where animals suffer. Something must be done and quickly.

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