Groups call on the European Commission to take action over huge number of cetacean deaths

Thousands of dolphins, porpoises and whales die in European waters, due to accidental capture in fisheries nets (bycatch). Today 21 environmental NGOs [1], led by Seas At Risk, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, ClientEarth and Coalition Clean Baltic, jointly called [2] on the European Commission to adopt emergency measures to immediately prevent further deaths and take legal action against 15 EU governments for failing their duty to protect these mammals.
Bycatch is the biggest global killer of whales and dolphins, who face a horrific death if caught in a net. If they can’t surface quickly enough, they suffocate. In their desperation to escape, some tear muscles, break teeth, and sheer off fins. Those that do escape can be left with painful injuries and can die weeks later as a result.
The situation is particularly critical for some dolphin and porpoise populations. The North East Atlantic short-beaked common dolphin, has suffered high bycatch for decades, as evidenced by the stranded dolphins washing up on the coasts of Ireland, United Kingdom, France and Spain. This culminated this past winter in 1,200 dolphins washing ashore along the French coastline alone, over 80% of which were diagnosed as having been bycaught. These numbers are only the tip of the iceberg, as for every dolphin body landing on a beach, many more decay at sea [3]. Marine biologists warn that commercial fisheries are now a major threat to this dolphin population [4]. To prevent thousands more deaths next winter, the fisheries responsible should be closed in the targeted period when the highest level of bycatch occurs.
The Baltic harbour porpoise is critically endangered [5], with only a few hundred animals left. One single incidental killing of a fertile female could have a devastating impact on the ability of the population to recover. To prevent the collapse of the population, emergency measures include a range of spatial closures of harmful fisheries in the Marine Protected Areas, and mitigation elsewhere in the Baltic Sea.

EH9B2R Harbour porpoise (Phocoena Phocoena) Schweinswal Fjord & Baelt

Cetaceans play a very important role in the marine ecosystem. These animals die today because EU countries are not playing their part to protect them. According to the law [6] EU seas should be healthy and thriving by 2020. With less than 6 months to go, we ask the European Commission to step in and take the action that countries are failing to take, said Alice Belin, Senior Marine Policy Officer at Seas At Risk.

“Cetaceans are offered ‘strict protection’ under European legislation [7]. Yet, poor implementation of the law means many thousands of dolphins, porpoises and whales die in fishing gear in European waters every year. The scientific evidence has shown us for decades that existing bycatch monitoring, mitigation and prevention are woefully inadequate. We need to act now to rectify this”, said Sarah Dolman, Policy Manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Tatiana Lujan, Wildlife Conservation Lawyer at ClientEarth said: “We are bringing this complaint because none of the countries involved are doing enough to prevent the killing, capture or disturbance of these magnificent marine mammals by fishing fleets. Under the EU’s habitats directive, these countries have an obligation to ensure strict protection for cetaceans, that all fishing activities do not have a significant impact on their populations, and to monitor and minimise accidental capture. Each and every country is currently failing to comply with these directives.”

Ida Carlén, Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Officer at Coalition Clean Baltic said: “The Baltic porpoises need highly protected Marine Protected Areas that are real safe havens for them, not just ‘paper parks’. That’s why we are asking the European Commission to take urgent measures to protect this critically endangered population while Baltic governments come to an agreement on a long-term solution.”

Contacts:
– Alice Belin, Senior Marine Policy Officer at Seas At Risk abelin@seas-at-risk.org +32 2 893 0921
– Danny Groves, communications manager at WDC danny.groves@whales.org, +44 (0)7834 498 277
– Sarah Dolman, Policy Manager at WDC sarah.dolman@whales.org +44 (0) 7834498275
– Martin Watters, Comms Manager at ClientEarth mwatters@clientearth.org +44 (0) 7432107787
– Ida Carlén, Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Officer at Coalition Clean Baltic ida.carlen@ccb.se +46 (0) 703133067

Notes
[1] List of NGOs involved: Seas At Risk, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, ClientEarth, Coalition Clean Baltic, Coastwatch Europe, Danish Society for Nature Conservation, Ecologistas en Accion, The Fisheries Secretariat, Fundació ENT, France Nature Environnement, International Foundation for Animal Welfare, Irish Wildlife Trust, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux, Marine Conservation Society, Natuurpunt, Oceana, OceanCare, Our Fish, Sciaena, Sea Shepherd France, Sustainable Water Network SWAN, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Wildlife and Countryside Link Bycatch sub-group, WWF.
[2] Cover letter “Complaint against the breach of species protection obligations under Article 12 of the Habitats Directive in relation to cetaceans”.
Cover letter “Urgent European Commission action needed to stop cetacean bycatch in Europe under Articles 11(4) and 12 of the Common Fisheries Policy Basic Regulation”.
[3] Pelagis –http://crmm.univlr.fr/images/M_images/Note_captureaccidentelle_dauphincommun_UMSPelagis_20180321.pdf
[4] In June 2019, the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission recognised the urgency of the situation and the threat caused by bycatch to the conservation status of the North East Atlantic common dolphins. https://archive.iwc.int/pages/view.php?ref=9570&k=
[5] IUCN assessment ‘Phocoena phocoena Baltic Sea subpopulation’. https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/17031/98831650
[6] Good Environmental Status of EU waters
[7] EU Habitats Directive: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:31992L0043
Under the European Legislation of the Habitats Directive, European Member States must adopt measures to protect cetacean populations. European Regulation 812/2004 foresees that European Member States should fight against cetacean bycatch.

Translations
– PR in Swedish
– PR in Polish