Environmental groups have called on the European Commission to take legal action against 15 EU governments – including the UK – for allegedly failing in their legal duty to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises in the North East Atlantic.
More than 20 environmental NGOs, led by Whale and Dolphin Conservation, ClientEarth and Seas At Risk, say the animals are not being sufficiently protected from bycatch capture in fishing nets.
The groups called for emergency protection measures to be brought in to prevent further deaths.
They say bycatch is the biggest global killer of whales and dolphins, who face a horrific death if caught in a net.
The North East Atlantic short-beaked common dolphin has suffered high bycatch for decades, as evidenced by the stranded dolphins washing up on the coasts of Ireland, United Kingdom, France and Spain.
This culminated this past winter in 1,200 dolphins washing ashore along the French coastline alone, over 80% of which were diagnosed as having been bycaught.
The numbers are only the “tip of the iceberg,” say campaigners, as for every dolphin body landing on a beach, many more decay at sea.
Sarah Dolman, policy manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, said: “Whales, dolphins and porpoises are granted ‘strict protection’ under European legislation. Yet, poor implementation of the law means many thousands of dolphins, porpoises and whales die in fishing gear in European waters every year.
“The scientific evidence has shown us for decades that existing bycatch monitoring, mitigation and prevention are woefully inadequate. We need to act now to rectify this.”
Tatiana Lujan, Wildlife Conservation Lawyer at ClientEarth said: “We are bringing this complaint because none of the countries involved are doing enough to prevent the killing, capture or disturbance of these magnificent marine mammals by fishing fleets.
“Under the EU’s Habitats Directive, these countries have an obligation to ensure strict protection for cetaceans, that fishing activities do not have a significant impact on their populations, and to monitor and minimise accidental capture.
“Each and every country is currently failing to comply with these obligations.”