Written by Alan Stuart and Mary Stuart.
Bycatch is the incidental capture of non-target
species, in any fishery.
Bycatch poses the most serious
threat to dolphins, porpoises and whales.
Cetaceans are protected under the Bern, Bonn (ASCOBANS),
and Biological Diversity Conventions, the Habitat and
Species Directive (92/43/EEC) and are treated as having
Appendix I Status CITES, within the European Union.
In the UK, they are protected under the Wildlife and
Countryside Act, the Conservation Regulations, and the
Countryside and Rights of Way Act. There are laws and
regulations which prohibit the harassment, abuse and
killing of porpoises, dolphins and whales.
However, the fishing industry defies all the conventions,
regulations, and laws under which cetaceans are protected,
and appears to be immune from prosecution.
Tens of thousands of cetaceans are dying in fishing
nets each year. They become entangled in tangle nets,
trammel nets, drift nets, trawl nets, gillnets and long
lines. The true extent of the bycatch problem is not
known, as many fleets prohibit observers from boarding
their vessels. However, studies that have been carried
out, show that the problem is of monumental proportions.
A study of the French albacore tuna drift net fishery
1992 - 1993 (when only 27% of the effort was observed)
showed an annual bycatch of 415 common dolphins and
1170 striped dolphins. In 1995, a study of the UK tuna
drift net fishery (when only 28% was observed) revealed
that the annual bycatch of dolphins was TWICE that of
the French. These drift net fisheries are supposed to
be phased out by 2002, but, the powerful tuna fishing
lobby, plans to seek a ruling from the European Court
to maintain tuna drift net fishing.
Studies have estimated
that the annual bycatch of harbour porpoises in the
Celtic Sea hake gillnet fishery, is of the order of
2237 individuals, but this estimate does not include
the bycatch from any UK boat under 15 metres in length,
any Irish boat under 10 metres, any of the French boats,
or any of the tangle net boats. Neither does it include
a proportion of bycaught porpoises which disentangle
from the net during hauling, that are already dead.
It is estimated that 6785 harbour porpoises are caught
in Danish North Sea gillnet fisheries each year, and
1000 in the UK North Sea gillnet fisheries.
Many thousands of cetaceans are killed in trawl nets
annually, including minke and pilot whales. The trawlers
which cause the greatest problem are pelagic (mid-water)
trawlers. Available information suggests that potentially
high numbers of common, white-sided and striped dolphins
are being killed in trawl fisheries in the North East
Atlantic each year. Further estimates suggest that up
to 50 dolphins may be taken in a single tow by the Irish
The most destructive of all pelagic
trawlers, are the pair trawlers. The Scottish, French
and Dutch pair trawlers tow nets of gigantic proportions.
They are so large that 12 jumbo jets could easily fit
inside one net. It is estimated that in a six week period
at the beginning of this new millennium, in excess of
2000 dolphins died in the nets of French and Scottish
pair trawls alone.
It is estimated that 6.2% of the total population of
harbour porpoises in the Celtic Sea is killed each year
in fishing nets, and 4% of the total population of harbour
porpoises in the North Sea. The International Whaling
Commission has stated that a continual kill rate of
only 1% of a cetacean population, will render it non-sustainable.
The result of this death and destruction
is often seen on European beaches. A small proportion
of bycaught cetaceans are found around the coasts of
the UK, Eire, France, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Spain
and so on.
February 1989: 600 dolphins stranded in two days in
Landes and Vendees, France.
January - April 1992: 118 dolphins (of which nearly
half were positively identified as common dolphins)
stranded in Devon and Cornwall - the vast majority showing
signs of bycatch; in 1993, 20 common dolphins; 1996,
30 common dolphins. This pattern was mirrored on the
coastlines of other European countries. February - March 1997: in a three week period 629 dolphins
stranded on the Southern Brittany and Biscay coasts.
- March 2000: in excess of 600 dolphins stranded on
the coasts of Cornwall, Devon and Brittany.
Of the stranded cetaceans post mortemed by veterinary
surgeons at the Institute of Zoology in London1 1990
34.4% of harbour porpoises were found to be bycatch
60.4% of common dolphins were found to be bycatch
11.6% of other whales and dolphins were found to
39.8% of all cetaceans were found to be bycatch.
(These figures are likely to be an underestimate, as
a cause of death could not be established for nearly
a quarter of all those post mortemed). Of
the stranded cetaceans post mortemed by veterinary surgeons
at SAC Veterinary Science Division, Inverness2, 1995
15.4% of harbour porpoises were found to be bycatch
11.7% of white-sided dolphins were found to be bycatch
16.7% of bottlenose dolphins were found to be bycatch
(caught in illegally set nets)
40.0% of Risso's dolphins were found to be bycatch
40.0% of minke whales died as a result of entanglement
in fixed ropes, such as creel or mooring ropes.
The physical evidence of entanglement in
fishing nets or gear are:
Gillnets, trammel nets, and tangle nets: lacerations
on the head, body, fins and tail fluke caused by the
net; penetrating wounds, often in the lower jaw and
head area, made by gaffs used by fishermen to remove
the cetaceans from the net; broken bones; broken teeth;
internal haemorrhage and signs of asphyxiation.
Drift nets: lacerations on the head, body, fins and
tail fluke caused by the net; bite marks on all parts
of the body caused by scavengers such as sharks; severed
flukes, fins, and tails caused by fishermen using fire
axes to remove the cetaceans from the nets: internal
injuries and signs of asphyxiation.
Trawl nets and gear: deep wounds to the head and body;
severed beaks, fins, and tails caused by fishermen using
fire axes to remove the cetaceans from the nets, sometimes
whilst still alive; severe internal injuries including
crushed organs; puncture wounds made by fishermen so
that the body will sink and a quite recent development,
beheading the animal, sometimes whilst still alive,
when it has become stuck in the intake of a fish pump
and blocked it.
If an ordinary individual carried out these
acts of barbarism, the legislative procedure would ensure
that the individual was punished. However, the fishing
industry appears to be above the law.
The problem of cetacean bycatch is not a hopeless one.
There are measures that can be taken to significantly
reduce the number of needless deaths. Efforts to address
bycatch problems in other countries, e.g. USA and New
Zealand, are underpinned by targeted legislation and
a legal framework of wide ranging duties and powers,
including the power of enforcement. In the USA, under
the Marine Mammal Protection Act (Amended 1994), the
immediate goal was that the incidental mortality or
serious injury of marine mammals in commercial fishing
operations, should be reduced to insignificant levels
approaching zero by 30 April 2001. There has been an
assessment of marine mammal stocks; there is a marine
mammal mortality monitoring programme for commercial
fisheries, whereby, observers monitor the degree of
bycatch and then Take Reduction Teams, which develop
strategies to reduce cetacean bycatch, formulate Take
Reduction Plans, which are discussed with scientists,
environmentalists, animal welfare groups, fishery managers
and fishermen. The plans are then put into action.
In 1994, it was estimated that 2100 harbour porpoises
were killed in the Gulf of Maine gillnet fisheries each
year. In January 1999, a TRP was put into effect. The
deaths of harbour porpoises were reduced to 270.
In the Mid-Atlantic gillnet fishery, it was estimated
that an average of 358 harbour porpoises were killed
in nets each year (1995 - 1998). After the introduction
of a TRP in 1999, the estimated bycatch for that year
was 49 harbour porpoises.
Take Reduction Plans, incorporate measures such as,
observer monitoring, area closures, reduction in the
size of the fishery, pingers on nets and modification
to fishing gear and practice. Enforcement measures and
penalties, that are sufficiently costly, are used to
ensure that fishermen comply with regulations designed
to reduce cetacean bycatch.
In the autumn of this year a new type of gillnet is
being trialled in the USA. It is called an" acoustically
reflective gillnet". Trials of this net took place
in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, in 1998 and 2000. The results
were so promising that the Scientific Committee of the
International Whaling Commission, endorsed further experimentation
with these nets and the Gulf of Maine Take Reduction
Team recommended that a large scale trial be conducted
In contrast, very little is being done by the Member States of the European Community to reduce the level of cetacean bycatch.
Each country blames the
others for the problem. Each Minister for Fisheries
blames the others and "encourages" their own
fishermen to take measures to reduce bycatch. However,
the USA and New Zealand have enforcement measures and
the United Nations Environment Programme's Annual Report
1999, states that "The foundation of any successful
international, regional, or national initiative on environmental
protection, is consensus backed up by law…there
is need for…detecting and prosecuting violators".
The EU Commission has initiated further research into
the problem, even though there have been in excess of
twenty EU funded reports in the last ten years all showing
need for action. Principle 15 of the Rio Earth Summit
states that "In order to protect the Environment,
the precautionary approach shall be adopted by States.
Where there are threats of serious damage, lack of full
scientific certainty shall not be used as reason for
postponing measures to prevent environment degradation".
There is no explicit legal provision in European law
to deal with the problem of cetacean Bycatch. Article
6 of the Amsterdam Treaty provides for the legal framework
of fisheries policy to be amended to incorporate measures
to address environmental concerns. Therefore, the European
Common Fisheries Policy could be amended to incorporate
cetacean bycatch mitigation measures, with explicit
provision in European law. It is now time for the citizens
of the European Community to demand these changes, in
order to reduce the number of cetaceans dying needlessly,
every year, in European waters.
More information on:
Marine Connection - www.marineconnection.org British Divers Marine Life Rescue - www.bdmlr.org.uk Cetacea Defence
The European Cetacean Bycatch Campaign is totally opposed to ALL fish farms for the following reasons -
The fish are kept in terrible, cramped conditions,
as they are intensively farmed; they are continually
injected, starved for 7-10days before being killed,
and invariably killed in an inhumane way. The CIWF
report is a damning indictment of fish farms.
(e-mail us for a copy)
In order to provide fish meal for these fish, industrial
ships catch millions of tons of pelagic species. These
fish die horribly, the majority of them dying as a
result of burst swim bladders. Those still alive when
dumped aboard the vessels, are gutted whilst alive.
These vessels are notorious for high levels of cetacean
bycatch. As time is money, if a cetacean is found
in the nets, tail flukes and pectoral fins are hacked
off, and the animals are decapitated in order to remove
them from the net. Their bodies are punctured in an
attempt to make them sink - to hide the evidence.
These barbaric practices are carried out regardless
of whether the animal is alive or dead - post-mortem
results have shown this to be the case.
We have evidence that levels of cetacean bycatch caused
by EU fleets fishing in the waters off W Africa, are
even worse than in EU waters.
These vessels are also depriving cetaceans of their
prey, and we are seeing an increasing number of cetaceans
stranding due to starvation.
Farming fish does NOT relieve the pressure on wild
fish stocks and cetaceans populations. On the contrary,
as each farmed fish requires 3-5 times it's own weight
in fish meal, in order to survive, the pressure on
wild fish stocks is significantly increased, resulting
increased cetacean bycatch levels.
The pollution from fish farms is destroying the
marine environment, destroying wild populations of
fish and is causing concern re. human health.
Adults have the choice to be vegan or vegetarian
- to eat fish or not.
However, millions of children have no choice. They
eat what they're given. If they eat farmed fish, they
are ingesting a cocktail of toxins which have been
linked to cancer, disruption of the endocrine system
and a number of other hateful diseases.
Some adults suffering with certain medical conditions,
including problems during pregnancy, are advised to
eat oily fish, including salmon, and are unaware that
there are alternatives to fish products. They are
told that farmed fish is healthy !!!
Communities and habitats in the "Third World"
are being devasted in order to build fish farms to
provide consumers in the "First World" with
farmed fish and crustaceans.