Addressing Conservation Measures for the North-East Atlantic Short-beaked Common Dolphin Population

Bonn, 31 August 2020 – The North-East Atlantic population of the Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis), Common Dolphin for short, is facing increasing anthropogenic pressures, the most significant of which is bycatch. Other key threats are chemical and noise pollution.  

During the winter of 2019 (January to April), 1,200 strandings of small cetaceans were recorded along the French Atlantic coast, and 1,089 between 1 January and 17 March 2020 (Pelagis, unpublished data).  

The Eighth Meeting of the Parties (MOP8, Helsinki 2016) adopted Resolution 8.4 Conservation of Common Dolphins.  The Resolution included a mandate for the Steering Group established by the Advisory Committee at its 22nd meeting to continue its work on developing a comprehensive conservation plan for the population of the species in the eastern North Atlantic. The Advisory Committee was also mandated to finalize the plan after national consultations and circulate a draft to Parties for adoption.

As a result, the ASCOBANS Species Action Plan (SAP) for the North-East Atlantic Common Dolphin was adopted in August 2019, its development having been considered essential in light of advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) indicating that the level of bycatch of Common Dolphins was unsustainable.  In May 2020, ICES advised that a series of fishery emergency measures for the Common Dolphin in the Bay of Biscay be implemented.  These include a combination of temporal closures of all métiers (fisheries activities) of concern and the application of acoustic deterrent devices (‘pingers’) on pair trawlers to mitigate bycatch at other times.

“In view of the evolution of strandings (and bycatch) which remains unfavourable, and due to the concern shown by ICES, the SAP demonstrates its relevance and its necessity.”

Florence Caurant, Co-chair of the Common Dolphin SAP Steering Group

ASCOBANS Parties were also prompted to take action in relation to the exposure of Common Dolphins to pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), marine activities that generate underwater noise, and the cumulative effects of human activities in the marine environment. The SAP reinforces the need for measures to be taken at the regional level to address these pressures. 

As requested by AC25, the Steering Group overseeing implementation of the SAP has developed a series of proposed amendments to the Resolution to be considered at MOP9.  The proposed amendments reflect the fact that the SAP has been finalized and adopted and update the list of research, mitigation and monitoring actions that were agreed by Parties.

“Successful implementation of the SAP is critical due to the recent plight of the species in the region. Precautionary principal aside, EU legislation requires that Member States act now - as sufficient scientific evidence is available. Member States must reduce impacts from incidental bycatch and other stressors on the population, in addition to implementing enhanced monitoring programmes to assess the effectiveness of management measures, as advised by ICES.”

Sinéad Murphy, Co-chair of the Common Dolphin SAP Steering Group

ICES further advised that protection measures can only be effective when applied for a longer period of time, given the life history of small cetaceans.  ICES also commented that the population-level consequences for the Common Dolphin of some of the major threats, both separately and cumulatively, are not fully understood.


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 01 September 2020

News item
Atlantic Ocean
North Sea
Noise pollution
Delphinus delphis
Species group: 
Marine mammals