UK must tackle bycatch in practice, not just on paper

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Bycatch (incidental capture or entanglement in fishing gear) is the number one cause of death for cetaceans in the UK, with smaller species such as dolphins particularly at risk.

Earlier this year, the UK and devolved governments finally published their much-delayed Marine Wildlife Bycatch Mitigation Initiative, outlining how they intend to address this deadly problem.

Unfortunately, the WCA is dismayed to see that – after decades of preventable cetacean deaths – the UK seems no closer to taking meaningful action on bycatch.

Although the Initiative recognises the significance of bycatch as a killer of marine wildlife, and shows a willingness to invest in research and develop mitigation measures, it doesn’t represent any real progress towards the kind of urgent changes that are needed to save lives.

Photo of a common dolphin found dead on Southwick beach, just behind the WCA and Sussex Dolphin Project office. The rope tied onto the dolphin’s tail is a clear sign of bycatch.

The UK’s draft Joint Fisheries Statement (JFS), released a few months earlier, claimed that “Through the upcoming UK Bycatch Mitigation Initiative, the fisheries policy authorities will commit to actions that […] reduce the bycatch of sensitive species”.

However, there are no commitments to action in the Initiative – it only suggests actions that authorities “could” take, with no measurable objectives or clear timescales for implementing and enforcing these.

After submitting feedback on the draft JFS in which we flagged its lack of specific actions, measures, targets and timelines for tackling bycatch, we’re now disappointed to find that the long-promised Initiative has fallen short in exactly the same way.

Through our ‘Dolphins Aren’t Discard’ campaign with Sussex Dolphin Project, we will continue to hold the UK government to account until they fulfil their legal duty to end cetacean bycatch.

In particular, we’re calling for the UK to improve fisheries monitoring and transparency through the use of remote electronic monitoring (including onboard CCTV), which is a reliable and cost-effective tool that’s already used by many other countries to reduce bycatch.

Until the UK takes urgent action, hundreds of cetaceans will continue to lose their lives needlessly each year. Please support our campaign and help to strengthen our voice as we speak up for dolphins and other victims of bycatch.

Header photo of common dolphins by Redders48, via Getty Images.

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