Baltic Proper Harbour Porpoise in Focus

Bonn, 10 August 2020 – Last assessed in 2008, the Baltic Proper sub-population of the Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) was categorized as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and the population is thought to number only a few hundred.

The greatest threats facing the Baltic Harbour Porpoise are bycatch, prey depletion, and disturbance from underwater noise along the busy shipping lanes of the Baltic Sea.

In July 2019, a coalition of 27 non-governmental organizations drew the attention of the European Commission to the status of the Harbour Porpoises in the Baltic Sea. As a result, the European Commission requested the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) to provide advice on appropriate emergency measures.  ICES published the Special Request Advice on emergency measures to prevent bycatch of common dolphin and Baltic Proper Harbour porpoise in the Northeast Atlantic in May 2020. 

In June 2020, the 16th meeting of the ASCOBANS Jastarnia Group, the steering group responsible for overseeing the ASCOBANS recovery plan for the Baltic Harbour Porpoise (and the conservation plan for the Harbour Porpoise population in the Western Baltic, the Belt Sea and the Kattegat), discussed the advice from ICES and sent its technical and scientific comments to the Directorates General at the Commission responsible for the environment and the sea (DG ENV and DG MARE).

“We are very pleased with the ICES advice and we hope that the Baltic Sea countries will implement the measures proposed in full, and for the long-term, so that the Baltic Proper harbour porpoise population is finally given a chance to recover.”

Ida Carlén, Chair, ASCOBANS Jastarnia Group

The ASCOBANS Recovery Plan for Baltic Harbour Porpoises (the “Jastarnia Plan”) was adopted in 2002 and was revised in 2009 and 2016.  The Jastarnia Group has met annually since 2005, to evaluate progress in implementation of the Plan, establish further implementation priorities, promote the implementation of the Plan, and to carry out the periodic reviews of the Plan.  Since 2018, Parties have funded a part-time coordinator post and a progress report on implementation of the Jastarnia Plan will be made available online before the forthcoming Meeting of the Parties.

A Draft Resolution is being submitted to the 9th Meeting of the Parties to ASCOBANS by the Jastarnia Group.  This draft resolution urges Parties to implement the ICES recommendations, to put in place long-term bycatch mitigation measures, to implement monitoring of fishing effort and bycatch, and to use Best Available Techniques and Best Environmental Practice to prevent injuries to Harbour Porpoises and reduce disturbance from impulsive noise sources.

While a proposal to add the Baltic Proper and Iberian Harbour Porpoise population to CMS Appendix I at the Conference of the Parties in February 2020 did not materialize, CMS Parties did adopt a Concerted Action.

ASCOBANS is the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas.  It is one of the daughter agreements of the Convention on Migratory Species (Bonn Convention) and entered into force in 1994. Since then, its Parties have met eight times, now on a four-year cycle, to assess the implementation of the agreement and decide what measures to take for better conservation of the species protected under it.  This article is part of a series showcasing some of the issues and resolutions to be discussed at the upcoming 9th Meeting of the Parties to ASCOBANS (MOP9). 

Last updated on 24 August 2020