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WDC team at UN Ocean conference

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Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

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Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

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Fin whale

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Bycatch – back on the agenda

You have likely seen in the media that common dolphins are washing ashore, dead, in droves in the southwest of England this winter. Not all of them have been caught in fishing nets accidentally, but some of them have. They are washing ashore elsewhere in the north east Atlantic too, including in large numbers in France and in Ireland


Accidental entanglement in fishing gear is the biggest killer of whales, dolphins and porpoises globally. Around the world, hundreds of thousands of them suffer this horrific death every year.

There are lots of questions. How many die in fishing gear, but don’t wash ashore? How many bodies wash up, but aren’t reported? This recent paper provides some alarming evidence of the scale of our bycatch issue.   

Why does this continue to happen – decades after fisheries bycatch has been identified as being the cause of large numbers of dolphin and porpoise deaths? And importantly, what are we doing about it?

Well, the European Parliament has begun reviewing the measures it has in place to prevent these deaths under the Common Fisheries Policy. We hope that the new policy will be more robust than the one currently in place (more on this another time) – including better monitoring and mitigation, to help us to solve the bycatch issue for common dolphins and for other species. And this is what we are lobbying in Europe for. Whatever comes out of the current EU review is likely to form the basis of future UK / devolved fisheries measures to deal with whale, dolphin and porpoise bycatch.

At the same time, this important paper has been released that reminds us why it is important for management decisions surrounding marine mammals to consider the welfare of the individuals. It also describes the worrying ‘erosion’ of welfare from UK marine conservation policy, providing bycatch and noise pollution examples. 

We need a more compassionate approach to management of our seas and its inhabitants. In conclusion, the paper states that we need “to work together to develop conservation policies and practice based on the best available science (and knowledge, generally). Such a development would, among other things, ensure that animal welfare becomes an integral part of decision-making in modern conservation practice.” I couldn’t agree more.  

You can play your part in helping to stop these needless deaths in UK waters. In the coming weeks, we will be launching a major new campaign. To be first to find out how you can help, sign up to our email newsletter.

Thanks to Blue Planet Society for alerting us to the French and Irish news pieces.