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EU decides to better protect dolphins

DN: IP/04/378

23rd March 2004



EU decides to better protect dolphins

Yesterday, the Council of Ministers took a decision to better protect dolphins and harbour porpoises in EU waters. The measures, originally proposed by the European Commission in July 2003†, relate to a step by step reduction of the use of driftnets from 1 January 2005 until complete prohibition by 1 January 2008, the compulsory use of acoustic deterrent devices ("pingers") on fishing nets and the monitoring of by-catches through an observer scheme. "This decision will better protect dolphins and porpoises against being accidentally trapped in fishing gear. Dolphins are not the only ones to benefit. Biodiversity will be strengthened and reduced by-catches of dolphins and porpoises will be positive for the image of the fishing sector, as fishermen never want to catch them in the first place", commented Franz Fischler, Commissioner responsible for Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Fisheries.

According to available scientific advice, most of the fishing gears commonly used in European fisheries are responsible for some small cetacean (dolphin and porpoise) by-catch. The most serious problems appear to be caused by gill nets and pelagic (mid-water) trawls. The action decided today relates to three types of concrete measures:

Phasing out the use of driftnets in the Baltic Sea

Baltic harbour porpoises are the most critically endangered small cetacean population in Europe. The population of Baltic harbour porpoises is so low as to make the impact of the rare by-catches significant for the conservation of this population. This is why driftnets in the Baltic will be progressively phased out by 1 January 2008 when their use will be completely prohibited. Meanwhile, the number of vessels using driftnets will have to be gradually reduced (-40% in 2005, -20% in 2006, -20% in 2007). Currently, around 200 vessels use driftnets in the Baltic Sea. In the remaining EU waters, driftnets have been prohibited since January 2002.

Mandatory use of acoustic deterrent devices

The use of acoustic devices or 'pingers', which have been shown to warn off small cetaceans such as harbour porpoises from gillnets, will be made mandatory for gillnet fisheries (from June 2005 for the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, from January 2006 in the Celtic Sea and the western Channel and 2007 in the eastern Channel). The smallest vessels below or equal to 12 metres will be exempted. The purchase of these acoustic devices could be co-financed by the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG).

Monitoring of by-catches through compulsory observer schemes

The two measures above were recommended by scientists as a first step until more information was collected on the behavioural relationships between cetaceans and fisheries in order to design more comprehensive strategies. This is why, in addition to these short-term measures, greater knowledge must be gained through monitoring of fishing activities and improved assessment and surveillance of cetacean populations.

Member States must devise on-board observer schemes to monitor cetacean by-catches in the fisheries identified as presenting a high risk where pelagic trawls or gillnets are used. For small vessels below 15 metres, where the observer scheme cannot be applied for security or any other reason, Member States must establish alternative methods of independent monitoring at sea.

Follow up

These various measures will be closely monitored in order to allow for their adaptation in the coming years if necessary. Member States will also have to ensure full monitoring of the state of cetacean populations as required under the Habitats Directive. These requirements are crucial not only for the success of the measures but also to ensure that the burden that they put on the fleets concerned is not greater than it needs to be.


By-catch mitigation and monitoring obligations already exist under the provisions of the 1992 Habitats Directive. However, their implementation was insufficient and uneven across Member States. This proposal provides a better definition of these obligations and stipulates priorities to ensure equity in their application across Member States.

Before drafting this new proposal, the Commission asked the International Council for the Exploration for the Sea (ICES) to provide advice on the fisheries concerned, the risk posed by these fisheries to identified populations and possible remedial action. It also asked the Scientific, Technical, and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF) to review this advice and to provide possible management advice.
The 2002 ICES report can be downloaded from the EUROCBC website
ICES Cooperative Research Report [Rapport des Recherches Collectives] No. 254

Or it can be accessed at the following address:

and the report by STECF from this, the EUROCBC website
Brussels, 11-14 June 2002

Or from

Driftnets have been banned in tuna fisheries in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean since January 2002 in the EU on account of the danger that their by-catch posed to some species.

†See IP/03/1111