Photo: Protected Resources Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California.

Thousands of whales and dolphins killed by failure to follow EU rules

Thousands of whales, porpoises and dolphins are killed every year after being accidentally caught in fishing nets. Environmental groups argue that fifteen EU countries are failing in their duty to monitor and minimise the impact of fishing on marine mammals.

A coalition of nature protection groups, including Seas At Risk, has now written to the European Commission to urge them to adopt emergency measures and take legal action against the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Known as ‘cetaceans’ by biologists, whales, dolphins and porpoises play an important role in the marine ecosystem, Alice Belin, Senior Marine Policy Officer at Seas At Risk explained:

“These animals die today because EU countries are not playing their part to protect them. According to the law 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”

‘Bycatch’, the accidental capture of non-target animals in fishing, is the biggest global killer of whales, dolphins and many other endangered marine animals, such as the albatross. Seas At Risk explain that cetaceans accidentally caught in fishing nets often face a horrific death, either suffocating while trapped, or tearing muscles, breaking teeth, and shearing off fins while trying to escape. Some will die weeks later as a result of painful injuries.Copyright Re Nature Environnement 3

Last winter 1,200 North East Atlantic short-beaked common dolphins were washed ashore along the French coastline alone, over 80% of which were diagnosed as having been bycaught. And Seas At Risk say these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg as, for every dolphin body landing on a beach, many more decay at sea.

Another species, the Baltic harbour porpoise, is critically endangered, with only a few hundred animals left. The death of a single fertile female could therefore have a devastating impact on the ability of the population to recover.

Emergency measures to protect threatened species like these could include the seasonal closure of fisheries in sensitive areas, such as Marine Protected Areas, and a swift move to fishing methods that result in less bycatch.

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Explaining more about the action being taken by the coalition of environmental groups, 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.”

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