Bycatch, the incidental capture of cetaceans during fishing activities, is thought to be the major threat to the conservation of small cetaceans. The UK Government is committed to reducing bycatch levels and was instrumental in gaining approval at the 3rd Meeting of the Parties of the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas (ASCOBANS) to a resolution which identified unacceptable bycatch levels and target reductions. The UK Small Cetacean Bycatch Response Strategy set out the UK Government’s thinking on what mitigation measures should be taken to meet these targets and to reduce bycatch to a level where it does not threaten cetaceans’ conservation status.
Under Article 12(4) of the Habitats Directive, Member States must monitor the incidental capture and killing of cetaceans. Previous bycatch monitoring has been carried out by monitoring cetacean strandings and also through a series of research projects targeting specific fisheries implicated in bycatch. Having identified the issue, expanded bycatch monitoring is now required both to indicate the current level of bycatch and to assess the effectiveness of any mitigation measures, such as use of pingers. This project proposes to design and establish an overarching scheme to monitor bycatch levels across UK fisheries.
New EC Regulations aimed at reducing cetacean bycatch (Council Regulation 812/2004, copy attached) have been adopted, which require certain levels of monitoring to be in place for some ICES areas by January 2005, and for others by January 2006.