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Caught in the net by-catch of dolphins and porpoises off the UK coast Third Report of Session 2003-04

, : Caught in the net by-catch of dolphins and porpoises off the UK coast Third Report of Session 2003-04. Unknown

Worldwide, the incidental capture of small cetaceans-that is, dolphins and porpoises-in fishing gear is thought to be the most significant threat to the conservation of the species. In UK waters, the species of cetacean predominantly affected by, and therefore threatened by, by-catch are the common dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin and the harbour porpoise. The evidence suggests that different species of cetacean are at risk from different fisheries, depending on the fishing gear and techniques used. Harbour porpoises appear particularly susceptible to being caught in wide-meshed nylon gill and tangle nets, principally those that are bottom-set. Bottlenose dolphins can be assumed to be at risk from the same fishing gear. Common dolphins appear particularly susceptible to being caught in pelagic (mid-water) trawl gear, in fisheries that are prosecuted in non-coastal waters. The pelagic trawl fishery for sea bass, in particular, has been implicated in by-catch of this species. The UK Government is legally obliged to deal with the problem of small cetacean by-catch. The Government's ability to act is, however, constrained by the provisions of the European Community's Common Fisheries Policy. In 2003, both the UK Government and the European Commission put forward proposals intended to mitigate levels of small cetacean by-catch. In March 2003, Defra published a consultation paper on cetacean by-catch, UK small cetacean by-catch response strategy. In July 2003, the European Commission adopted a draft regulation intended to curb by-catch of small cetaceans. In this report, we evaluate the Government's proposals, taking into account the European's Commission's draft regulation. Although we commend Defra for its useful strategy paper, we consider it does not go far enough. We make a number of recommendations to the Government about what further action is required. In respect of gill net fisheries, we recommend that acoustic deterrent devices, known as pingers, be made mandatory on all bottom-set gill nets in the Celtic Sea, as they will be in the North Sea, regardless of the distance of the fishery from the coast. We also recommend that equivalent mitigation measures should be put in place in respect of set gill nets used in the English Channel. In respect of pelagic trawl fisheries, we make particular recommendations about the sea bass fishery, although we urge the Government to place much greater emphasis on monitoring levels of cetacean by-catch in other pelagic fisheries. If by-catch of small cetaceans in the sea bass fishery is to be addressed effectively, we consider that action is required at European Community level, because the fishery is prosecuted by several member states. If other member states do not agree to take effective mitigating action to reduce levels of cetacean by-catch, we recommend that the Government makes a formal request to the European Commission, asking it to impose emergency measures in the form of closing this fishery. Such a closure could last for up to six months. In order to provide a long-term management solution for this fishery, we recommend that the Government pursue discussions at the European level about introducing a cetacean mortality scheme.

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