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WDC report critical of inadequate EU regulations as over 1,000 dolphins a month face death in nets this winter

Common minke whale

A shocking 1,200 common dolphins on average each month this winter are expected to die in nets in waters around the Bay of Biscay alone and, according to a new WDC paper published in the journal Marine Policy, many more whales and porpoises face a similar fate unless EU regulations change.

Just days after the European Union missed a deadline in an emergency measures request to save the lives of around 5,000 common dolphins from suffocation in nets between now and the end of March 2021, the paper (Implications of new Technical Measures Regulation for cetacean bycatch in European waters) criticises current EU measures to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises from death in nets (bycatch) in European waters as being inadequate, poorly implemented and enforced.
In particular, the paper highlights that urgent action is needed and critical for populations of harbour porpoise in the Baltic Proper, Iberian Peninsula, Celtic Sea, English Channel, and Black Sea; bottlenose dolphin in Andalusia; humpback and minke whales in Scottish waters, and that there is now a real concern for common dolphin populations in the Bay of Biscay, and Celtic Sea.

Robust enforcement of existing legislation would save many thousands of whales and dolphins every year, some from potential extinction, says the report’s lead author and WDC policy manager, Sarah Dolman. ‘If the EU were to ensure Member States implement measures to ensure compliance with EU bycatch laws, we would have a good chance to save the Baltic porpoise from extinction’.

Enforcing EU laws would save many thousands of dolphins, porpoises and whales from suffering a horrible death due to bycatch. It would save thousands of common dolphins across the northeast Atlantic, and particularly in the Bay of Biscay, each winter, where about 11,300 dolphins were bycaught in the first four months of 2019 alone.

Using on-board observer and strandings data respectively, scientists estimated that about 3,973 or 6,620 common dolphins were bycaught each year in 2016-2018. The number of deaths was much higher in 2019.

By implementing the closure of certain fisheries for limited periods (recommended by NGOs and supported by scientists), about 548 or 913 dolphins would have been bycaught. As a result, about 3,425 or 5,707 common dolphins could have been saved this winter.

Seasonal fisheries closures, alternative gears can be an effective way to reduce bycatch in some fleets.

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