Environmental NGOs have jointly 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).
The groups also call for emergency protection measures to be brought in for Baltic harbour porpoises and North East Atlantic common dolphins to immediately prevent further deaths in these populations.
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. 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.