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EU gets tough on dolphin deaths – how did we get them to take action?

The biggest killer of dolphins and porpoises in the seas of Europe is accidental entanglement in fishing nets. Known as 'bycatch', many thousands meet this unnecessary and frankly horrific death every year. So I was delighted when the European Commission announced action to prevent dolphin and porpoise bycatch earlier this month, following many years of hard work initiated and led by myself and my colleagues here at Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Thanks to our efforts and your support, the EU has taken the first steps towards legal action against France, Spain and Sweden unless they take immediate action to stop dolphins and porpoises dying in their fishing gear.

Let's explore how we got here...

Common dolphin caught in fishing net

If you are able to make a donation, it will help us keep fighting to prevent dolphin deaths in nets.

This important development comes hot on the heels of the European Environment Commissioner, Virginius Sinkevičius, hosting a roundtable on the issue in June, attended remotely by more than 120 experts and stakeholders, and at which I gave a presentation. Importantly, the Commissioner announced in both the roundtable and in a meeting with the European Council the following week that if Member States did not tackle the bycatch of dolphins, porpoises and other species, then the Commission would take action.

I am so pleased and relieved that the Commission is finally focusing its attention on eliminating bycatch and preventing the agonising deaths of so many dolphins and porpoises. As a campaigner, I often work on an issue for a long time before seeing real change and it’s so heartening and rewarding when it finally happens. It makes all that hard work and time and money spent worthwhile. This Commission announcement is a genuine milestone towards reducing dolphin and porpoise bycatch in European waters.

If you are a WDC supporter then you should feel proud and share in this victory, because your support enabled WDC to lead the charge to make this happen. Find out how in the timeline below.

The Commission announced that France, Spain and Sweden in particular have not taken sufficient action to implement measures required under EU laws to avoid catching dolphins and porpoises in the nets of their fleets. Common dolphins in the Bay of Biscay and harbour porpoises in the Baltic Sea are dying in numbers that could be devastating for these populations, and so urgent action is required of France, Spain and Sweden to address the problems. These concerns were brought to the attention of the Commission in emergency measures requests made by WDC and other European NGOs in July last year. Our recommendations were supported by Europe’s marine mammal and bycatch experts.

The European Environment Commissioner has written to all Member States to ask them to justify what action they are taking to comply with requirements to reduce all dolphin and porpoise deaths under EU laws and the Commission has stated in correspondence to WDC since the announcement, that they are continuing to investigate other EU countries too.

We have a long way to go before dolphins and porpoises are truly safe in our shared seas, but we have made real progress. Because of our persistence, the European Commission has made a commitment to tackle dolphin and porpoise bycatch and, with your continued support, I plan to keep the pressure on.

Please help us today with a donation

Every single donation, large or small, will help us keep working to stop dolphins and porpoises suffering and dying in nets.


How we achieved this together

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.

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