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WDC exposes failure of Government scheme to protect whales and dolphins from net deaths

trawler-fishing-bycatch-pixabay

Following our investigations, we have revealed that a UK Government scheme to protect whales and dolphins from net deaths is a total failure and could also impact the UK’s ability to export fish to the US.

Figures show there has been very little participation in the Government’s self-reporting scheme for fishers aimed at reducing deaths in fishing nets.

One year after UK and devolved governments put in place a rule requiring fishers to self-report marine mammal bycatch (incidental capture and death in nets) only 18 voluntary reports had come in from just six vessels. Just two of the reports showed any mortality/injury to any marine mammals (one harbour porpoise and one common dolphin), whilst the other 15 reports were all nil returns (made by just three vessels). This tiny number of reports came during a time when large numbers of whales and dolphins will have been harmed and killed, based on previous research figures and in reports on bycatch from the Department for Environment, Food and  Rural Affairs (Defra) itself.

In addition, the failure of this scheme could place UK exports of fish to the US in jeopardy due to requirements of foreign fisheries exporting fish and fish products to the US. The UK has attempted to meet requirements by creating the Bycatch Mitigation Programme which has an objective to monitor bycatch levels in UK fisheries. But this ineffective approach has been rendered meaningless based on the extremely low numbers taking part.

‘When we enquired with Defra about the amount of self-reports of bycatch over the last year, we were shocked to be told it was such a low figure’, says Bianca Cisternino, WDC bycatch coordinator. ‘This, of course, is a gross underestimation of the actual amount of bycatch occurring and highlights that self-reporting is an inadequate method for reporting deaths of marine mammals in nets and gear.’

‘We warned the Government that this scheme would not work. Previous research shows that it would be unlikely to work. The Government is failing to grasp this problem and as a result fishers have been cut adrift. They have a lack of time, motivation, and training to accurately self-report their bycatch. The current UK programme provides no incentives or training for fishers to know how to self-report bycatch and identify the different species caught. The fault lies with Defra and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for not putting in proper measures for monitoring bycatch and for relying on self-reporting methods that do not work.’

‘What the Government needs to do now is implement remote electronic monitoring (REM) on UK fishing vessels to allow effective and robust monitoring of fleets for bycatch. It also needs to set UK-wide targets for the rollout of REM with 100% coverage for the highest risk fleets.'

Bycatch is the biggest single killer of whales and dolphins around the world and, so far, Defra and the MMO have not done anywhere near enough to tackle this issue in UK waters and are not complying with the UK legislation.

Donate today to help prevent deaths in nets.

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