New Guidelines Help Minimize the Impact of Bycatch of Small Cetaceans

Bonn, 24 August 2020 – CMS in collaboration with WWF has published Guidelines for the Safe and Humane Handling and Release of Bycaught Small Cetaceans from Fishing Gear, which set out best practice on how to handle and release small cetaceans accidentally caught in fishing gear. 

Preventing fisheries bycatch is a top priority to ensure the conservation of species or populations. However, when these efforts fail and small cetaceans are found alive in or on fishing gear, this clear and comprehensive set of guidelines for the fishers involved will be of great benefit.

As fishing is an activity widespread across all oceans and seas, and most large rivers, it affects dolphins and porpoises in many areas. An estimated 300,000 cetaceans are killed incidentally in commercial fisheries each year. 

Stranded and entangled cetaceans feel pain, suffer from exposure, and experience fear and stress as humans do. For this reason, these guidelines focus on humane handling and release methods that are likely to improve the chances of survival for the animal involved.

The Guidelines are intended to help fisheries managers, as well as those working with fisheries to improve handling and release practices. In addition, illustrations contain clear, concise, bullet-pointed instructions pertinent to each specific fishery.

The Guidelines also address a gap in currently existing resources available to government fishery management agencies and fishing industry associations or organizations. 
Instructions for best practice are given both for releasing small cetaceans that are brought alongside the vessel after they are bycaught in or on fishing gear, and for animals that have been accidentally or intentionally brought aboard. In each case, the aim is to decrease the risk of further injury or stress, thus increasing the chances of post-release survival. 

Comprehensive record keeping is recommended, using standardized log sheets which should be collected by a central agency for collation and analyses. In addition, practical overview pages for crew members that can be laminated and used on board are provided. Ultimately, they may contribute to a wider culture of ‘best practice’, in the global effort to minimize the impact of activities on the welfare and conservation of small cetaceans that interact with fisheries.

Financed by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) specifically with the intention of supporting initiatives to address cetacean bycatch, this new edition of the CMS Technical Series supports the implementation of Resolution 12.22 Bycatch. It is equally relevant for ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas) and ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area), as well as the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and will be shared widely with fisheries management organizations. Experts associated with the CMS Scientific Council, the ASCOBANS Advisory Committee, the ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee and the IWC Scientific Committee have peer-reviewed the Guidelines, and they have been endorsed by the IWC Scientific Committee.

Last updated on 26 August 2020

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Species group: 
Marine mammals