HSI statement on European Parliament cetacean bycatch vote

Humane Society International

  • William Rossiter/Cetacean Society International

The European Parliament has voted to only marginally improve protections for cetaceans in EU waters in the framework of the proposed new Regulation on the conservation of fishery resources and the protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures (2016/0074).

Each year, high numbers of dolphins, porpoises and whales continue to die horrific and needless deaths after becoming accidentally entangled in fishing gear. Scientific experts have repeatedly raised concern about the inadequate and poor quality of cetacean bycatch monitoring, assessment and mitigation in the European Union.

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

“The result is far from spectacular. While MEPs made some small advances to improve measures to prevent cetaceans from accidental entanglement in fishing gear, they have largely chosen to turn a blind-eye to scientific advice and have failed to take sufficient action to eliminate the needless deaths of countless dolphins, porpoises and whales. It is a missed opportunity to make a significant difference to the conservation and welfare of the cetacean species who live in EU waters. Ultimately, the interests of the fishing industry have been placed above those of marine species and their natural habitats. Profit trumps protection.  

Amongst other things, the adopted text does not include any measures that would have prioritised monitoring and mitigation according to fishing gear type rather than vessel size. This is vital because gear type is a primary risk factor in influencing bycatch rates. MEPs also rejected efforts to consider the welfare implications of bycatch. On a more positive note, cynical attempts to remove protections for cetaceans in two regions were thwarted. The rapporteur had re-tabled amendments that the Parliament’s highly conservative and industry-driven Committee on Fisheries had already rejected. Had he succeeded, this would have resulted in the lifting of the ban on driftnets in the Baltic Sea, which could have meant the last coffin in the harbour porpoise population in the region. Likewise, he sought to remove all requirements for monitoring and mitigating cetacean bycatch in the Mediterranean. Further to this, proposals to expanding measures to include seals were adopted.”

Prior to the vote, Humane Society International/Europe had joined numerous conservation and animal protection NGOs in recommending that MEPs reject the file altogether at Plenary if cetacean bycatch and wider fisheries conservation measures were not significantly improved.

Inter-institutional negotiations, known as trilogues, will commence after the adoption of the Parliament’s position on the Commission’s proposal. HSI/Europe urges EU Member States to not attempt to further water down this legislation in these negotiations.


  • Council Regulation (EC) No 812/2004), which covers incidental catches of cetaceans in EU fisheries, is to be repealed and incorporated into the new Regulation on the conservation of fishery resources and the protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures (2016/0074).
  • The proposed Regulation is intended to merge and simplify 33 different pieces of EU legislation, including the existing Regulation covering incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries. 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. They 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.

Media contact: Wendy Higgins, whiggins@hsi.org, +44 (0)7989 972 423

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