Deaths of small cetaceans in western European waters
Thank you for your letter addressed to Mr. Fischler, who has asked me to reply on his behalf. The European Commission is well aware of the problem, which emerges every year during the winter months. l have pleasure in informing you of the state of the situation as far as Community action to overcome the problem is concerned.
ln first place, as the monitoring of deaths of cetaceans and the setting of remedial action is primarily a responsibility for Member States, the Commission has requested the concerned authorities information on the progress accomplished in this tasks. This was done in order to allow the acting at the Community level in a more efficient manner. Regrettably, l must admit that not aIl Member States have responded with equal firmness to their obligations, and the Commission is ready to act in this respect.
Secondly, the Commission had, on the one hand, promoted and financed research on this topic, and on the other hand, requested scientific advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and from the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF). Although preliminary advice indicates already the direction of the management steps to take, further details are still required and these are expected by June. By then the Commission expects to be in a position to promote measures at Community level to protect small cetaceans from the effects of fishing. But these should be proportionate to the risks and weIl tailored to the nature of the problem.
Finally, you mention the possibility to modify the existing legislation on labelling of fish products, in order to set up the obligation to indicate the method of capture, and l take it this a first step to initiate a boycott to products caught with certain gear. I am afraid this would mean entering in really difficult and slippery grounds. On the one hand, the danger for cetaceans is not only associated to the method of capture, but also to the target species, the area, the season and the skills of the skipper. It is very possible that perfectly legitimate fisheries, with no associate by-catch of cetaceans at alI, be unjustifiably damaged by an eventual boycott. On the other hand, the obligation would necessarily be extended to imported products, and this would create conflicts in the field of international trade, precisely due to the difficulty in establishing a unequivocal link between the protection objective and the associated measure.
Head of Unit
Commission europeenne, B-1049 Bruxelles I Europese Commissie, B-1049 Brussel - Belgium. Telephone: (32-2) 29911 11. Office: J99, 6-49. Telephone: direct line (32-2) 2961191. Fax: (32-2) 2984489.