Stop dolphins, porpoises and whales dying in fishing gear in UK waters

  • by: WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation
  • recipient: George Eustice, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity Lesley Griffiths AM, Mark Durkan MLA

Thousands of dolphins, porpoises and whales die in fishing nets and gear every year in UK seas.

Most of the protection they have comes from the EU. But, after Brexit they won’t even have that.

What then? Even more could die. We need to keep them safe. You can help decide their fate by signing our petition now.

Like us, whales and dolphins can’t breathe underwater. Trapped in a net, they will panic, just like you would. Many endure terrible wounds and broken bones as they try to escape. When they can’t struggle any more, they will close their blowhole and drown.

Now is the time to stop this suffering. Sign our petition and urge George Eustice and the devolved Ministers to take urgent action. Ask them to put laws in place to protect dolphins, porpoises and whales in UK waters once Britain leaves the EU.

Photo: ©Peter Rowlands/Greenpeace.

Dear George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity
Lesley Griffiths AM, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs
Mark Durkan MLA, Minister for the Environment

Preventing dolphins, porpoises and whales dying in fishing gear in UK waters

Bycatch experts estimated that approximately 1,200-1,500 harbour porpoises and 240 common dolphins died in the gillnets of the UK fleet in UK waters in 2015. Bycatch in other fisheries and the fleets of other nations fishing in UK waters is unknown, but collectively, thousands of porpoises and dolphins die in fishing gear, every year. In addition, an unknown number of minke and humpback whales become entangled in static creel fishing lines. Some survive, often bearing scars, but many more perish.

The numbers being accidentally caught are large enough that bycatch may be having a population level effect on common dolphins and humpback whales in UK waters. It is certainly a considerable and worrying concern for the welfare of every individual of all species involved. Most asphyxiate in the nets, others can suffer a variety of injuries and high levels of stress during capture. Humpback whales can carry gear for months on end, resulting in a slow and painful death.

Of all the EU Member States, we understand that the UK has the best record for monitoring bycatch, as required under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). However, the CFP measures have not been entirely fit-for-purpose, and do not deal adequately with data collection, bycatch monitoring and, importantly, mitigation. As a result, the CFP Technical Measures are under review, as you will be aware. Very little has been done to meaningfully reduce whale, dolphin and porpoise bycatch in recent years, including little progress in development and implementation of effective prevention methods.

With legislative changes, as the UK plans to withdraw from the EU, the future of porpoise, dolphin and whale bycatch is uncertain. The CFP at least contained some measures to monitor and mitigate some of this bycatch. A review of requirements and fit-for-purpose bycatch laws are now essential in English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh waters. Future measures should ensure a renewed effort to understand and reduce the number of these traumatic and unnecessary deaths.

Porpoise, dolphin and whale bycatch reduction is possible and WDC wants, and is able to help you to achieve this aim.

[Your comments here]

Yours sincerely

[Your name] 

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