Letter: Urgent action needed to stop dolphin bycatch in the Bay of Biscay between January and April 2020


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Mr Virginijus Sinkevičius
Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries European Commission

CC: Carmen Priesing, Deputy Head of Cabinet to the Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries
Humberto Delgado-Rosa, Director for Natural Capital, DG Environment
Veronika Veits, Director for International Ocean Governance and Sustainable Fisheries, DG Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
Elisa Roller, Head of Unit, CFP and Structural Support, DG Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
Nicola Notaro, Head of Unit, Nature Protection, DG Environment
Michel Sponar, Acting Head of Unit, Marine Environment and Water Industry, DG Environment

Subject: Urgent action needed to stop dolphin bycatch in the Bay of Biscay between January and April 2020

Brussels, 14 January 2020

Dear Commissioner Sinkevičius,

Last winter, more than 1,200 dead dolphins washed ashore along the French coastline alone. They had died after having been caught in the gears of fishing boats. We need your urgent action to prevent this from happening again this winter.

The incidental capture of whales, dolphins and porpoises by fishing gear, known as “bycatch”, presents the most significant global and European threat to their conservation. You are aware of the recent global reports highlighting dramatic declines in biodiversity [1]. Based on the small percentage of dead short-beaked common dolphins that would be expected to reach the shore, it is estimated that up to 10,000 may have been killed by fishing gear in the Bay of Biscay last winter. Experts have repeatedly highlighted the unsustainable levels of bycatch in EU waters [2] .

EU laws exist to prevent bycatch. But they are not implemented. Member States have systematically failed to implement adequate conservation measures, and to establish and enforce monitoring systems to better understand the exact causes and scale of the issue. By not enforcing nature protection laws, the Commission is failing to comply with its duties under the Habitats Directive, and is also failing to meet its responsibilities under articles 11(4) and 12 of the Common Fisheries Policy Basic Regulation.

We were recently informed that the European Commission is waiting for additional scientific information before taking action. Ample evidence exists, and if we do not act now, thousands of dead dolphins will land on our coasts again this winter. The bodies have already started to wash ashore. The EU cannot showcase its ambition to be a global leader in biodiversity protection while letting this happen again. Not in the same year as the publication of the new EU Biodiversity Strategy and the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

You can still do something to prevent this catastrophe from happening again this winter.

You can require that the two Member States most concerned with this situation in the Bay of Biscay, France and Spain, follow two emergency measures:

  • Close the fisheries that are responsible for the common dolphin bycatch in the North East Atlantic between January and April 2020. This must include, at least, pair-trawl and gillnet fisheries. Closures should remain in place each winter until effective prevention and conservation measures are implemented.
  • Request on-board independent observers and/or electronic monitoring on all fishing vessels in the Bay of Biscay throughout the year. Fishing activities should halt and the vessel should leave the area as soon as any bycatch is observed.

You will find, enclosed, our briefing on Fisheries Emergency Measures for the Northeast Atlantic short-beaked common dolphin in the Bay of Biscay.

We would welcome the opportunity to discuss our views on the dramatic situation of cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay and throughout European waters and the actions needed to ensure that no further harm is done to these vulnerable populations. For further information, your services can contact Alice Belin (abelin@seas-at-risk.org).

There is still time to avoid thousands of unnecessary deaths. We, and over 222,000 European citizens who signed a petition to stop the killing of dolphins by the fishing industry in EU waters, are counting on you to act now.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Monica Verbeek Executive Director Seas At Ris

Chris Butler-Stroud
Chief Executive
Whale and Dolphin Conservation

Douglas A. Ruley Chief Counsel ClientEarth

On behalf of:

Europe and international:

Ariel Brunner, Acting Regional Director, BirdLife Europe and Central Asia
Karin Dubsky, International coordinator, Coastwatch Europe
Joep Van Mierlo, Regional Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare Europe Pascale Moehrle, Executive Director, Oceana Europe
Sigrid Lueber, President and Founder, OceanCare
Rebecca Hubbard, Program Director, Our Fish
Ester Asin, Director of WWF European Policy Office


Didier Feray, Président, Association Chêne
Gwénola Kervingant, Présidente, Bretagne Vivante
Michel Dubromel, President, France Nature Environnement
Isabelle Loulmet, Présidente, FNE Nouvelle Aquitaine
Jean-Christophe Gavallet, Président, FNE Pays de la Loire
Yves Le Quellec, Président, FNE Vendée
Alexandre Gannier, Président, Groupe de Recherche sur les Cétacés (GREC)
Yves Verilhac, Executive Director, Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux
Patrick Picaud, Président, Nature Environnement 17
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare France and French Africa Dominique Chevillon, Président, Ré Nature Environnement
Lamya Essemlali, President, Sea Shepherd France
Daniel Delestre, Président, Sepanso


Carlos Astra, President, Asociación Asturiana de Amigos de la Naturaleza Fructuoso Pontigo, President, Coordinadora Ecoloxista d’Asturies
Marta Gumá , President, Depana – Lliga Per A Defensa del Patrimoni Natural Eneko Aierbe, Marine programme coordinator, Ecologistas en Accion

Lydia Chaparro, Environmental Consultant, Fundació ENT Antonio García, President, Fundación Lonxanet
Xabier Rubio, President, Haritzalde
Alejandro Peláez, President, Mavea

Mónica Sagrera García, President, Planeta Profundo
Leo Belaustegi, President, Ondarroa 12 Milia
Óscar Santana, Secretary, Plataforma para la defensa del litoral del sureste de Gran Canaria Sabela Iglesias, General coordinator, Verdegaia

Other Atlantic countries:

John Hourston, Founder, Blue Planet Society, UK
Sean Meehan, Chairman, Irish Wildlife Trust, Ireland
Simon Berrow, Chief Executive Officer, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, Ireland
Jean-Luc Solandt, Principal Specialist, Marine Protected Areas, Marine Conservation Society, UK Gonçalo Ferreira de Carvalho, Executive Coordinator, Sciaena, Portugal
Eligius Everaarts, Director, Stichting SOS Dolfijn, the Netherlands


1 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 2019.

2 Scientific Report of the International Whaling Commission, 2019; Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STEFC), 2019, Review of the implementation of the EU regulation on the incidental catches of cetaceans; International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, Working Group on the Bycatch of Protected Species, ICES CM 2016/ACOM:27; ASCOBANS, Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas.

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