Cetaceans

Dolphin in sea - Cefas photo library‘Cetacean’ is the term used to refer to any member of the group of marine mammals that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. These web pages contain information on what the Department is doing to minimise the impact of fishing on cetaceans.

The are other teams in Defra that work on related areas such as whaling and the conservation of cetaceans and their habitats. You can find more information on these policies by clicking on the following links:

On this page:

Fisheries impact on cetaceans (cetacean by-catch)

By-catch is the term used when species of marine life, which are not the targets of a particular fishery, are caught in fishing gear.

We recognise that by-catch is a particular problem in some fisheries, although levels of by-catch have been difficult to assess because owners of fishing boats are not required to report by-catch.

In an attempt to reduce fisheries by-catch Defra and the devolved administrations’ (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) fisheries departments published the UK Small Cetacean By-catch Response Strategy in March 2003. This set out the extent of our current knowledge of the problem, and how it might be addressed on a national basis. The following paragraphs set out some of the things that have been done so far to tackle the problem of cetacean by-catch. A fuller update on the progress of implementing the UK Small Cetacean By-catch Response Strategy (PDF 642 KB) (last updated: July 2009) is now available.

In March 2009 the European Commission announced its intention to review Council Regulation 812/2004 and publish a Communication in 2010. The aim of the review is to clarify and strengthen current measures and to propose new ones in order to assist Member States implement the Regulation better. Therefore, with most of the recommendations already complete in the current strategy and in light of any future proposals that will emerge from the review of the Regulation, the UK will produce a new Small Cetacean Bycatch Strategy in 2010.

Pair trawling for bass in the south west of England has been demonstrated to have high levels of cetacean by-catch. Defra took measures to ban pelagic pair trawling for bass by UK vessels within 12 miles of the south west coast of England in December 2004.

The UK Government are funding research into cetacean bycatch caused by fishing effort. We have commissioned the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) to monitor UK fisheries which may be responsible for causing cetacean by-catch and to develop mitigation measures to reduce the bycatch of marine mammals. Their annual reports describe the work completed by the SMRU and other UK organisations to date.

The Department also obtains strandings data under the Defra-funded Cetacean and Turtle Strandings Scheme, carried out by the Natural History Museum in partnership with the Institute of Zoology and Scottish Agricultural College. This research looks at trends in cetacean strandings and causes of death around the UK coastline.

Bass pair-trawl fishery

Pair trawling for bass in the south west of England has been demonstrated to have high levels of cetacean by-catch. Sea trials conducted by the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) showed that there was no easy technical solution for reducing by-catch levels through the use of mitigation devices. As a result of the findings Defra banned pelagic pair trawling for bass by UK vessels within 12 miles of the south west coast of England (within ICES area VIIe) in December 2004. Other bass fisheries, such as gillnetting and hand lining, and pair trawl fisheries targeting other species have not been affected.

The UK asked that the ban on pelagic pair trawling for bass be extended to the vessels of other Member States, who are currently permitted to fish between 6 and 12 miles off the south west English coast (under Article 9 of Council Regulation EC No 2371/2002), but this was turned down by the European Commission.

There is ongoing research funded by Defra and carried out by the Sea Mammal Research Unit to monitor bycatch in the limited UK bass pair-trawl fishery beyond 12 miles.

Council regulation 812/2004

We strongly supported the development of European Council Regulation (EC) 812/2004 which lays down measures concerning incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries (by-catch). The Regulation sets out timescales for taking measures in specific fisheries to deter cetaceans away from fishing nets and also requires monitoring of by-catch in specific fisheries by observers.

The requirements of the Regulation which specifically apply to UK adjacent waters are:

  • the mandatory use of acoustic devices ("pingers") for vessels over 12m involved in specified fixed gear fisheries (bottom-set gillnet or entangling net) in the North Sea from 2005
  • the mandatory use of acoustic devices for vessels over 12m involved in fixed gear fisheries (bottom-set gillnet or entangling net) in the Celtic Sea Channel and Western Waters from 1 January 2006
  • the monitoring of by-catch, by on board observers, of vessels 15m or over in specified fisheries

The Sea Mammal Research Unit conduct the monitoring programme required by the Regulation on behalf of Defra. Member States are required to send a report to the Commission on the observer monitoring schemes for the fisheries specified in the Regulation by 1 June.

Page last modified: 03 August 2009
Page published: 14 December 2007