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Soundings Archive

Greenpeace Back in Court on Bycatch
As previously reported on this site, Greenpeace has sued the UK Government, alleging that the Government's efforts to reduce bycatch dolphin deaths from pair trawling are inadequate. Greenpeace's website recently announced that it is in back in court on the case, after a brief hiatus for reasons that are unclear to anyone who is not familiar with the British legal system.

Greenpeace's basic legal argument in the case is,
    "The government has a legal obligation under European law to protect whales and dolphins yet the twelve-mile ban is simply a political gesture that is likely to lead to more deaths."
ASCOBANS provides part of the "European law" that Greenpeace refers to. The UK is one of the eight countries that are parties to ASCOBANS, the acronym for Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of the Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas. The ASCOBANS report on bycatch declares that

    "Bycatch, the accidental entanglement in fishing gear, is considered the most serious threat to cetacean populations in the ASCOBANS area."
The history of ASCOBANS and other UK-related action on bycatch is set forth in UK Small Cetacean Bycatch Response Strategy, Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment, and in Marine Mammal Bycatch by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee ("JNCC").

The JNCC report summarizes the UK, ASCOBANS and European status quo on bycatch regulation. According to the report, the UK and other European states depend heavily on acoustic ‘pingers' to prevent cetacean bycatch during commercial fishing:
    "The UK is party to several agreements with legal obligations to protect small cetaceans, including the EU habitats directive, the Agreement of the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Sea (ASCOBANS) and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Technical, educational and legal measures can be taken to avoid or reduce cetacean by-catch. Most fishermen would not want to catch cetaceans, so a number of projects have been undertaken with their co-operation to test measures such as the attachment of acoustic devices ('pingers') to nets to alert cetaceans of the presence of the nets. More recently, tests have been made on devices to allow dolphins to escape from nets.

    "In March 2004, the European Commission introduced a new regulation aimed at reducing the bycatch of harbour porpoises in bottom set gillnets and entangling nets. From the summer of 2005, pinger use will become mandatory on bottom-set gillnets or entangling nets in the North Sea and the Skaggerak & Kattergat region deployed from vessels greater than 12m in length. Similar rules will apply to the western English Channel and South Western Approaches from January 2006, and to the east English Channel from January 2007. This regulation also made provision for the monitoring of dolphin bycatch in trawl fisheries from January 2005 in the English Channel, Irish Sea and off western Britain and Ireland, and from January 2006 in the North Sea and west Scotland."
According to Greenpeace, these efforts to reduce bycatch are not enough.
  • Click here for Greenpeace site on bycatch litigation
  • Click here for July 2005 Greenpeace position statement on bycatch hazards from pelagic trawls
  • Click here for UK Small Cetacean Bycatch Response Strategy, Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment
  • Click here for JNCC report Marine Mammal Bycatch
  • Click here for ASCOBANS report on bycatch
  • Click here for ASCOBANS website
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