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ClientEarth Communications

10th July 2019

Wildlife & habitats
Nature Directives
Protected Areas
Defending habitats

We call on European Commission to take legal action over huge number of whale and dolphin deaths

Twenty-two environmental NGOs, led by ClientEarth, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and Seas At Risk, have today called on the European Commission to take legal action against 15 EU governments for failing in their legal duty to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises in the North East Atlantic from capture in fishing nets (bycatch).

Our group also call for emergency protection measures to be brought in for Baltic harbour porpoises, led by Coalition Clean Baltic, and North East Atlantic common dolphins to immediately prevent further deaths in these populations.

Whale and dolphin bycatch

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.

These countries must ensure  fishing activities do not have a significant impact on whale and dolphin populations. Each and every country is currently failing to comply with these obligations.

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 . Marine biologists warn that commercial fisheries are now a major threat to this dolphin population. 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, 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.

Tatiana Lujan is a wildlife conservation lawyer for ClientEarth. She says: “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 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 obligations.”

Sarah Dolman, Policy Manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation says: “Cetaceans are granted ‘strict protection’ under European legislation. 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.”

List of NGOs involved:

Whale and Dolphin Conservation, ClientEarth, Seas At Risk, Coalition Clean Baltic, Coastwatch Europe, Danish Society for Nature Conservation, Ecologistas en Accion, The Fisheries Secretariat, Fundació ENT, France Nature Environnement, Humane Society International, 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.