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Goodbye bycatch
Common dolphin on Devon beach © CSIP-ZSL/MCGA

Goodbye Bycatch – what you need to know

Dolphins, porpoises and whales are suffering and dying right now in UK seas to put fish and shellfish on our plates.

We know the solutions. We CAN stop this.


What is the problem?

Entanglement in fishing gear is the biggest killer of dolphins, porpoises and whales globally, and it's a major issue in UK seas. It's a truly horrible way to die and, because it happens at sea, many people are unaware of the accidental suffering that takes place to catch the fish we eat.

Nobody wants to catch a dolphin in their net and we know the solutions.

We need your help to push the UK and devolved governments to act.

Which types of fishing gear kill dolphins, porpoises and whales?

Gill nets
Original illustration by, edited for republication

Gill net

  • What are they? Gill nets or static nets hang in the water catching any creature that swims into them.
  • How many UK deaths each year? More than 1,000 porpoises and hundreds of dolphins, including 250 common dolphins.
Creel rope
Original illustration by, edited for republication

Creel rope

  • What are they? Creel pots are the baskets used to catch shellfish like lobsters, crabs and prawns. The ropes that join them together and those used to pull them up from the seabed are a danger to whales who get tangled in them.
  • How many UK deaths each year? Around 30 minke and 5 humpback whales die in these ropes in the seas around Scotland.
Trawl net
Original illustration by, edited for republication

Trawl net

  • What are they? Trawl nets are dragged behind a boat scooping up whatever creatures are in its path.
  • How many deaths each year? We don't know how many dolphins die in trawls in UK seas but around 10,000 common dolphins, considered to be from the same population, die in these nets in neighbouring Bay of Biscay.

Terrible suffering and real lives lost

Every death is an avoidable tragedy.

Click on the dolphins, porpoises and whales on our map to discover the stories of just a few of the individuals who suffered and died in fishing gear.


Warning: you may find the images upsetting.

Breaching porpoise

Did you know that dolphins, porpoises and whales do not drown. If fishing gear stops them reaching the surface to breathe, when the air in their lungs runs out they suffocate.

We know it's a challenge

The UK’s departure from the EU and coronavirus both present serious challenges for fishers working in UK seas and, like other industries, fishers face hardship. The UK and devolved governments need to take this opportunity to create lasting, positive change that supports fishers and saves thousands of lives.

We want to see gill nets phased out...

We've produced this briefing for MPs.

We're calling on the UK and devolved governments to:

Manage fisheries to measurably and continually reduce bycatch over the next five years

Replace gill nets, which cause the most deaths, with safer alternative gears. Those with the highest levels of bycatch should be replaced by 2026

Invest in new bycatch prevention technologies

Support fishers to implement modifications to fishing gear such as sinking the ground line and using ropeless technologies to remove the vertical line from seabed to the surface in creel fishing

Develop mitigation plans for trawl fisheries that may pose a risk, such as ‘moving on’ when dolphins are encountered

Scale up independent bycatch monitoring on fishing vessels

Work with and support fishers to make these changes

Apply the appropriate standards to all fishing vessels in UK seas

The story so far...

February/March 2021

Goodbye bycatch parliamentary briefing

We publish a briefing for parliamentarians and government agencies, together with Humane Society International and supported by 21 other welfare and conservation organisations. This sets out the government action required to stop dolphins, porpoises and whales dying in fishing gear in UK seas.

February 2021

We launch a major campaign to show that the UK public expects less talk more action from government on bycatch. We need new bycatch reduction targets to be set and enforced that will protect dolphins, porpoises and whales in our seas.

November 2020

The Fisheries Act is passed and the UK’s commitment to reduce and eliminate bycatch becomes law.

August 2020

WDC input to development of four nation Joint Fisheries Statement. We need this to set rules for fishing industries to follow to prevent dolphin, porpoise and whale bycatch

May 2020

WDC funds published research to show that a pinger (a device that emits sound to warn dolphins and porpoises about the presence of a net) can be successful in reducing porpoise deaths and does not cause them to move away from an important area.

January 2020

Success! The draft Fisheries Bill is published. This is the legislation that will control fishing in the UK after Brexit.

Because of our campaigning, it includes a commitment to minimise and where possible eliminate dolphin and whale bycatch.

October 2019

WDC attends and presents at the UK’s first training for fishers on how to disentangle a whale from fishing gear.

July 2019

WDC submits a formal complaint to the EU against the UK and other European nations for their inaction to prevent dolphin and porpoise bycatch.

September 2018

WDC leads an NGO group on production of a report which sets out how we can end bycatch in UK seas.

July 2018

Following our successful campaign, WDC campaign lead, Sarah Dolman starts work with government and others to draw up a UK Bycatch Strategy.

May 2018

WDC leads the response from NGOs to the government’s consultation on its UK Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy.

April 2018

WDC takes part in a two day government workshop to help shape a UK Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy.

April 2018

WDC presents at a Zoological Society of London event which is opened by George Eustice MP.

March 2018

WDC initiates a two year Scottish Entanglement Alliance, with partners from Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation, government agencies and NGOs to find out how many whales and other species get entangled each year.

September 2017

Success! Then Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, accepts our petition and promises action.

September 2017

MPs pledge their support.

Spring-summer 2017

75,000 people sign our petition.

March 2017

We launch a major campaign urging the UK government to put strong laws in place to stop dolphins, porpoises and whales dying in fishing gear in UK seas after we leave the EU.


WDC investigates the suffering inflicted on dolphins and porpoises trapped in nets.


WDCS (as we were then) publishes ‘The Net Effect?’ and ‘The Price of Fish’ reviews of bycatch in the Northeast Atlantic fisheries.


We join forces with Greenpeace to witness and highlight common dolphin deaths in nets in the English Channel.

Latest news and views on the campaign issues

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