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EU legal action against France, Spain and Sweden a big step in WDC’s campaign to stop death in nets

A dolphin trapped in a fishing net

The European Commission has demanded that France, Spain and Sweden take immediate action to prevent the needless deaths of dolphins and porpoises killed every year in fishing nets (known as bycatch).

WDC, whose research work led to this intervention, has been working tirelessly to get the EU to take action on the issue. Incidental capture in fishing nets and gear is the biggest killer of whales, dolphins and porpoises with thousands killed in the seas around Europe every year.

Like us, whales and dolphins breathe air, so when they get tangled up in a net, rope or fishing line it can be a desperate race against time to escape and avoid suffocation.

The EU legal action announcement this week follows pressure from WDC and number of partner groups, including a major intervention last year asking the European Commission to take legal action against 15 EU governments for failing in their legal duty to protect vulnerable marine mammals.

This call for action was recently endorsed by scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), who published landmark advice in May backing immediate action to protect dolphins and porpoises from death in nets.

WDC has previously produced evidence of countries failure to comply with bycatch laws,  held a public facing campaign with MEPs to raise the profile of the issues, initiated a formal complaint ( partnering with ClientEarth) to provide legal expertise, as well as co-organising and presenting at a bycatch event at the European Parliament, in December 2019. Last week WDC also made a bycatch presentation to the EU Environment Commissioner, Virginius Sinkivicius at a formal bycatch event.

Sarah Dolman, Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s policy manager, whose research led to the NGO intervention, said: “The unabated deaths of many tens of thousands of dolphins, porpoises and whales bycaught annually in fisheries in European waters, causing population declines and much suffering for the individuals involved, has been happening for decades. The Commission has taken the first crucial steps to require France, Spain and Sweden to take action to implement monitoring and bycatch prevention. These countries, along with others fishing in European waters, should urgently take measures to eliminate bycatch of Europe’s dolphins and harbour porpoises.”

What next?

We will continue to:

  1. keep up the pressure on the EU Commission to ensure effective measures are put in place that will save dolphin lives
  2. promote practical, effective solutions to stop dolphins, porpoises and whales dying in nets and gear
  3. work with fishing industries to help them improve practices
  4. engage with expert scientists and governments to get life-saving measures put in place
  5. work with the UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments to make sure that dolphins, porpoises and whales are properly protected in UK seas

How did we achieve this success?

July 2020

Common dolphin
Success! The EU announces that it will begin legal action against France, Spain and Sweden if they continue to flaunt regulations.

June 2020

We presented to the EU Environment Commissioner, Virginius Sinkivicius, and more than 120 other people at a formal ‘bycatch roundtable’.

December 2019

Bycatch event at European Parliament
We co-organised and presented at an event about deaths in fishing gear at the European Parliament.

July 2019 to now

We’ve held a series of meetings with relevant departments in the European Commission to urge them to take action.

July 2019

Common dolphin in fishing net
WDC initiated and submitted a formal complaint to the EU, partnering with legal experts, ClientEarth and getting 23 other European animal welfare and conservation organisations on board.

Jan 2018

Common dolphin caught in fishing net
WDC supporters emailed and phoned their MEPs to urge them to demand protection measures for dolphins at an important EU fisheries vote.

July 2017

Sarah Dolman at European ParliamentWe took our campaign direct to decision-makers in the European Parliament.


We rallied our supporters to lobby their MEPs to make sure dolphin and porpoise deaths in nets were a high priority for the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy review.


WDC Bycatch in Europe reportWDC produced evidence of EU countries breaking laws supposed to prevent dolphin and porpoise deaths in nets.


We detailed the measures that the EU needed to implement to tackle the problem.

2004 and 2005...

We joined forces with Greenpeace, going to sea to gather evidence of this horrific problem.


We published a detailed analysis of the true scale of the issue.

Early 2000s...

We surveyed beaches in Cornwall, investigating the bodies of dolphins for signs of entanglement.


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