The diversity of life in our oceans has been a source of fascination and awe, ever since my earliest childhood. From microscopic organisms at the bottom of the food chain to large mammals such as dolphins, whales and porpoises, also known as ceteceans. However, over the past few decades, there has been growing international concern regarding bycatch of cetaceans in commercial fisheries

 

As European Commissioner for the environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, I take such concerns very serious. The European Commission is committed to minimising the negative impacts of fishing activities on marine ecosystems – in our own waters and beyond. To this end, we rely on scientific assessment of these impacts in order to devise the most appropriate countermeasures.

Since 2004, we have taken ambitious steps towards ensuring cetacean conservation. The so-called Cetaceans Regulation[1] introduced several measures to reduce incidental catches of whales, dolphins and porpoises by fishing vessels. This Regulation made mandatory for specific fisheries' operators the use of acoustic deterrent devices, which keep marine mammals away. The Regulation also establishes monitoring schemes for large and small vessels. And it made Member States responsible for reporting to the Commission about incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries; reports that are thoroughly assessed by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES)[2], which provides the Commission with scientific advice on appropriate follow-up. In 2016, the Commission proposed to further expand the geographic scope of these measures, and I count on the Council and the European Parliament to turn these ambitions in EU law.

 

Indeed, the overall objective of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy is to ensure the sustainable use of living aquatic resources, based on sound scientific advice. The EU's data collection framework and the financial support provided by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) has significantly improved collection of data, the development of innovative gears and mitigation measures, including for the protection of cetaceans.

The European Commission is also promoting the conservation of cetaceans internationally. For example, by providing strong support to the work of the International Whaling Commission.

In addition, the Commission has been actively supporting the adoption by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) of conservation and management measures aiming at addressing the incidental by-catch of cetaceans. This includes measures for the collection of data, mitigation and avoidance techniques, guidelines for safe release and more. These efforts pay off: by way of example, the Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Programme (AIDCP), has achieved a dramatic decrease in dolphin mortality in tuna fisheries in the Eastern Pacific – from more than 100.000 per year in the mid-80s to few hundreds per year since the mid-90s to date.

Specifically, in the Mediterranean and Black Sea areas, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM)[3] has adopted technical measures in gillnet fisheries while requiring the prompt release, alive and unharmed to the extent practicable, of cetaceans that have been incidentally caught.

Together, we have come a long way in the conservations of ceteceans. The efforts of fishermen cannot not be underestimated. Still more needs to be done, but I am confident that the initiatives pursued so far have put us are on the right track and that in cooperation with our international partners, we will ensure that also future generation can cheer the richness of our oceans, including such beautiful and intelligent creatures as whales, dolphins and porpoise.

 

 

[1] Council Regulation (EC) No 812/2004 laying down measures concerning incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries

[2] http://www.ices.dk/sites/pub/Publication%20Reports/Advice/2017/2017/byc.eu.pdf

[3] Recommendation GFCM/36/2012/2 on the mitigation of incidental catches of cetaceans in the GFCM area of application

Recommendation GFCM/37/2013/2 on the establishment of a set of minimum standards for bottom-set gillnet fisheries exploiting turbot and for the conservation of cetaceans in the Black Sea

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