“Invisible suffering and death” – Action urged to prevent the death of porpoise, dolphin and whale fishing gear
Every year, more than a thousand porpoises, dolphins and whales die in fishing gear in UK waters, conservationists have warned, as they call for action to end ” suffering largely invisible “.
Campaigners call on the UK and decentralized governments to follow through on their commitment in the post-Brexit Fisheries Act to ‘reduce and, where possible, eliminate’ the bycatch of dolphins, porpoises and whales from fishing activities at the UK.
A Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) campaign urges ministers to set clear and ambitious annual targets to reduce cetacean deaths from fishing and phase out the nets that pose the greatest risk to marine mammals.
It also calls for investing in testing and deploying alternative and modified gear for the UK fleet, as well as more independent bycatch monitoring.
Urgent action is needed in particular to protect harbor porpoises in the Celtic Sea and the English Channel, humpback whales and minke whales in Scottish waters and populations of common dolphins in the Bay of Biscay and the Celtic Sea, said WDC.
A new report for WDC and Humane Society International (HSI) suggests a series of actions that conservation groups say could largely end the bycatch and killing of porpoises, dolphins and whales by 2030.
This includes the phasing out of gillnets, fixed fishing nets that are anchored to the bottom of the sea and pose the greatest threat to species such as harbor porpoises – although they only account for 2% of the catch. fishing in the UK.
It is estimated that 1000 harbor porpoises and about 250 common dolphins die in gillnets each year, becoming entangled and suffocating to death.
With the use of acoustic deterrents or ‘pingers’ having limited impact, the report says fisheries should shift to alternative gears such as hooks and lines that can be used to capture commercial species targeted by the nets. gillings.
The WDC wants alternatives to be found for the fisheries with the highest level of cetacean mortality by 2026.
Cetaceans can also suffer from entanglement in net fishing gear, whose baited baskets for catching species such as shrimp on the seabed are tied together and to a buoy floating on the surface by lines. .
Around 30 minke whales and five humpback whales die each year as a result of net fishing in UK waters.
Plans are also needed for trawl fishing which can be implemented as soon as there is evidence of bycatch, for example by moving fishing activities out of the area where dolphins are caught. .
Same for decades
Sarah Dolman, WDC’s bycatch program manager, said: âNo one wants to catch dolphins, porpoises and whales. But bycatch has continued about the same for decades, and research points to effective solutions. “
She said the UK and decentralized governments could meet the obligations of the Fisheries Act and show global leadership in implementing solutions to prevent suffering, as well as to build consumer confidence and benefit fishermen. .
Claire Bass, Executive Director of Humane Society International UK, said: âThe seas around the UK are like an obstacle course for marine mammals, causing much unseen suffering and death. “
She urged the government to work with the fishing industry to phase out gear such as gillnets which are “known to be deadly traps for whales, dolphins and porpoises” and ensure that surveillance and bycatch reporting are strengthened so that changes can be made if necessary.
The report’s author, scientist Russell Leaper, said changes in UK fisheries management meant there was a “real opportunity” to prevent bycatch.
âThe best way to do this is to move away from fishing methods that pose the greatest risk to our cetaceans,â he said.
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said: âDolphins, whales and porpoises are a vital part of our marine ecosystem, which is why we are working closely with fishermen to reduce bycatch.
âWe are developing a UK bycatch action plan which we will publish later this year. This plan will outline actions to tackle the bycatch of these animals in UK waters in a practical and risk-based manner. “
For more information on the campaign, people can visit https://uk.whales.org/our-4-goals/prevent-deaths-in-nets/goodbye-bycatch-what-you-need-to-know /
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