The exact number of cetaceans killed or injured at sea every year is unknown, as it is not feasible to monitor all cetacean deaths. As such, I am unable to estimate the proportion of cetaceans killed or injured at sea that are washed ashore. In any event, this will be influenced by several factors, including distance from shore and the prevailing weather and sea conditions over a period of time.
For nearly 15 years the Government have funded studies by the Natural History Museum and the Institute of Zoology (IoZ) on causes of death and trends in numbers of stranded cetaceans around the UK coastline. Post-mortems are carried out on a selected number of the stranded carcases each year.
The two species that are more commonly reported as stranded along the UK coastline are the harbour porpoise and the common dolphin. The annual proportion of UK-stranded harbour porpoises diagnosed as by-catches varied between 11 per cent. and 25 per cent. in the 2002-06 period. The proportion of UK-stranded common dolphins diagnosed as by-catch varied between 57-77 per cent. for the same period. The majority of these by-catches (for both species) occurred in SW England during the winter months. Although the annual numbers of harbour porpoises and common dolphin strandings reported in SW England has increased since the 1990s, a number of factors (particularly increased observer effort and possible changes in abundance and distribution of these species) are suspected to have played a role in this increase.
My Department funds research which is carried out by the Sea Mammal Research Unit to monitor by-catch in all relevant UK fishery sectors, including the bass pair trawl fishery.
Results for the 2004-05 pair trawl fishery for bass show a marked decrease from the preceding year for the total numbers of dolphins observed as by-catch and the number of dolphins stranding in the south west coast has similarly decreased this year. It is, however, too early, on the basis of one year’s data alone, to link these reductions to the 12 mile ban. Further analysis of the effectiveness of the 12 mile ban on sea bass pair trawling will be undertaken as more data become available. The funding for cetacean by-catch and strandings monitoring has been extended to 2010. 2005-06 survey data are being analysed and the results will be published in the near future.
The Common Fisheries Policy regulation, Council Regulation 2371/2002, provides a number of possible responses to threats faced in relation to fishing activities:
(i) Article 7: Commission emergency powers
These can be used at the request of a Member State where there is a serious threat to the conservation of stocks or the marine environment from the impact of fishing requiring immediate action. The Commission has emergency powers to put in place measures for 6 months applicable to all Member States. Measures are also renewable for a further 6 months. Member states have a right to submit written comments on the request to the Commission. The Commission must decide upon the Member State’s request for action within 15 days of receipt. If the Commission decides to take emergency action any Member State can refer the decision to the Council. The Council, acting under qualified majority voting procedures, may take a different decision within one month of the referral.
This article was used successfully by the UK in 2003 to secure protection for the Darwin Mounds when we discovered it was at risk from damaging fishing activities.
(ii) Article 8: Member State emergency measures
These measures can be used by a Member State to take action, subject to confirmation, cancellation or amendment by the Commission, where there is a serious and unforeseen threat to stocks or to the marine environment. Measures would apply to other Member States’ vessels but, again, as under Article 7, other Member States have the right to comment and refer the Commission decision on the Member State request to the Council of Ministers. Measures last for 3 months and are non-renewable.
(iii) Article 9: Member State measures within 12 miles
This article provides for Member States to take measures for the conservation of stocks and to minimise the impact of fishing on the marine environment within 12 nautical miles of baselines. Where such measures are liable to affect vessels of other Member States (that is, in practice, those that have historic rights of access under the CFP to the 6-12 nautical mile zone), as with Articles 7 and 8, they are subject to approval by the Commission, open to comment from other Member States and any Commission decision can be referred to the Council of Ministers.
The pair trawling sea bass fishery season usually starts in November and continues until April and takes place in the south-west approaches.
From 1 November 2004 to 4 March 2005, a total of 90 cetaceans were reported as stranded along the south coast. Not all of these strandings can be solely attributed to the pair trawling sea bass fishery, and the figures include stranded dead cetaceans, live strandings and carcases seen floating at sea. Only 12 of the 90 cetaceans that were stranded were definitely confirmed as by-catch. These data were obtained under the DEFRA-funded Cetacean and Turtle Strandings Scheme, carried out by the Natural History Museum in partnership with the Institute of Zoology, Marine Environmental Monitoring and Scottish Agricultural College.