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November 21, 2017

EU Parliament vote misses important opportunity to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises from lethal fishing gear entanglement

Humane Society International/Europe

  • Cetaceans need better protection. Kolsnyk Tobias

BRUSSELS—MEPs on the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries today failed to back proposals that would have significantly increased vital EU protections for European cetacean populations and helped prevent the horrific and needless deaths of porpoises, dolphins and whales accidentally entangled in fishing gear.

The rules covering incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries (Council Regulation (EC) No 812/2004) are being repealed and incorporated into a new Regulation on the conservation of fishery resources and the protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures (2016/0074). These existing rules are clearly inadequate as large numbers of non-target animals have continued to die in some fisheries. However, proposals to improve the existing bycatch measures, such as expanding measures to include seals and other protected species, were rejected. Similarly, efforts to consider the welfare implications of bycatch were also defeated.

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Joanna Swabe, senior director of public affairs for Humane Society International/Europe, issued the following statement after the committee vote:

“We are deeply disappointed by the Fisheries Committee’s lack of ambition with regard to better safeguarding cetacean populations in EU waters. Accidental entanglement in fishing gear often proves fatal to porpoises, dolphins and whales. High numbers of these cetaceans continue to die unnecessarily each year. Animals unable to free themselves endure horrific deaths, suffering serious injuries while struggling to escape and eventually suffocating underwater.

“On the plus side, cynical moves in the PECH committee to weaken the Commission’s proposal, such as amendments that sought to do away with the ban on driftnets in the Baltic Sea, were thwarted. The lifting of this prohibition could have proved be the last nail in the coffin for the harbour porpoise population in the region where fewer than 250 adults are thought to still survive. Likewise, a majority of MEPs voted against proposals to remove bycatch measures from South Western waters and to remove all requirements for monitoring and mitigating cetacean bycatch in the Mediterranean.

However, the Committee rejected all references to improving animal welfare protections and effectively opted to maintain the current status quo with respect to monitoring and mitigation requirements for the bycatch of cetaceans and other sensitive marine species, such as sea turtles, seals and seabirds. These urgently need to be improved to protect populations and prevent needless deaths and animal suffering.”

The new regulation still needs to pass one more stage as the Committee decided that its report should be voted on in plenary rather than immediately entering into interinstitutional negotiations on the file. HSI/Europe will continue to push for stronger measures and the reintroduction of key amendments to strengthen the legislative proposal when the file goes to the Plenary vote.


  • Technical measures are the rules for where, when and how fishing may take place. These measures are fundamental to regulating the impact of fishing on targeted stocks, other animals and the wider marine ecosystems, and will play a key role in achieving some of the main objectives of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, such as implementing an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management, minimising the impacts of fisheries on the wider environment and avoiding unwanted catches and gradual elimination of discards.
  • The Baltic Sea subpopulation of harbour porpoises are critically endangered, due largely to historical removals but with the current major threat being bycatch in fishing gear. The existing driftnet ban was introduced to protect the local harbour porpoise population.
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