On 6 September, 2017 we handed-over our petition calling for strong laws to stop dolphins, porpoises and whales dying in fishing gear in UK seas. Our Parliamentary event to present the petition and to get a commitment from the UK Fisheries Minister, George Eustice MP, was really well received. Entanglement in fishing gear, or ‘bycatch’ is the biggest global threat to dolphins, porpoises and whales and we were so proud to state that more than 75,000 of you were with us in wanting to reduce bycatch in UK waters.
We were delighted that MPs and peers, collectively from the Conservative, Labour and Green Parties came to support us, and colleagues from within government, nature conservation agencies, fellow NGOs, fishing industry representatives, funders and WDC supporters were with us to back our cause.
George Eustice is well known to WDC as he used to represent the UK at meetings of the International Whaling Commission, the body that regulates whaling, and we have built a good working relationship with him, as well as with Richard Benyon MP, a previous Environment Minister, who kindly hosted our event. As the moon rose over the River Thames, in these beautiful and historic surroundings, this positive relationship was reflected in the speeches of both Ministers, as well as our own CEO’s.
Mr Eustice made a number of important statements, some of the highlights for me and others in the room: “I want us to be a global leader, inspiring others to protect cetaceans” (the collective term for whales, dolphins and porpoises), “I want to see significant reductions in the number of dolphins and porpoises caught and killed in our fisheries” and “Any action to reduce bycatch will only be successful with strong support from the fishing industry. They are the cornerstone around which we must build our efforts”.
In my speech, I reminded Mr Eustice and all our guests of the need to consider bycatch in future UK fisheries, conservation and animal welfare laws as we prepare to leave the European Union. With the Withdrawal Bill being debated in the House of Commons currently and the Fisheries Bill expected to be hot on its heels in early 2018, our efforts could not be more timely. Bycatch needs to be explicitly dealt with.
We now need to keep up the pressure to remind George Eustice of his ambition and to ensure that dolphins, porpoises and whales stay high on the agenda in these very political, fast-moving and complex times – so that we can make the legal changes that are necessary to reduce the numbers of individuals dying and eventually end bycatch in UK seas.
To sum up the evening, I couldn’t put it any better than Mr Eustice himself: “This will be a challenge. But one I think we can rise to together. The benefits of driving down bycatch are there for all to see. It will help safeguard our environment for future generations. It can make our seafood the envy of the world, tapping into the premiums associated with sustainably and ethically sourced products. And of course we can take a step closer to meeting our ultimate goal of eliminating cetacean bycatch and ending the welfare implications associated with it.”
Never doubt the power we have when we stand together. Thank you for signing our petition, with that small action you’ve been a part of driving real change and saving lives.