21st Advisory Committee Meeting Tackles Bycatch, the No. 1 Threat for Small Cetaceans

Gothenburg/Bonn – The ASCOBANS Advisory Committee, a body set up to provide advice and information to Party States on the conservation and management of small cetaceans, convened its 21st meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden, from 29 September to 1 October 2014.  The day before, on 28 September, the North Sea Group – a steering group for the Conservation Plan for the Harbour Porpoise in the North Sea – held its 4th meeting.

Representatives of governments, non-governmental organizations and research institutions spent the meeting days reviewing new information on threats to small cetaceans, such as bycatch, underwater noise or pollution, and agreed on steps necessary in order to mitigate impacts of human activities on the animals and their habitats.  Attention was also given to emerging issues, such as the rapidly growing field of renewable energy developments.

The greatest threat to harbour porpoises and other small cetaceans in the Agreement Area remains bycatch in fisheries.  Extensive discussions focused on the lack of adequate data for a reliable assessment of the situation, and the need for more effective mitigation.  Since extensive restructuring of the relevant legislative frameworks at the European level is expected in the near future, it was agreed that ASCOBANS should provide input into these processes.  An expert workshop will be held in early 2015 in order to draft an ASCOBANS position paper with regard to the monitoring and mitigation of bycatch required for effective conservation of small cetaceans, containing clear and detailed recommendations of requirements for revised or new legislation within the EU.

It was also agreed that ASCOBANS should seek to provide input into the processes relating to the setting of ‘bycatch limits’ at European level, by means of an expert workshop, which will explore existing procedures for defining thresholds of mortality beyond which population declines are inferred; define conservation objectives in relation to thresholds of anthropogenic mortality (specifically from bycatch) for small cetaceans at a European-wide level; and provide an overview of available information on proposed assessment units of regularly occurring species, highlighting the gaps in our current knowledge of those species for which removal rates of concern will be required at a European level.

In order to address a large gap in knowledge regarding bycatch estimates, the meeting suggested that Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) could be a cost-efficient and reliable way to monitor bycatch on fishing vessels, in particular where there are practical barriers to using dedicated observers.  A workshop will be held in 2015 which will provide an overview of the current status of REM techniques in use; common implementation problems or concerns and solutions to these; the identification of new techniques that can be used to monitor bycatch in the future; as well as the proposal of a best practice protocol on implementing REM for protected species monitoring.

A preliminary list of the Action Points and Decisions agreed at the meeting is attached.  The full report will become available in due course on the AC21 meeting page.

Last updated on 24 December 2014

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Species group: 
Marine mammals