Letter from EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries

Commissioner for Environment
Oceans and Fisheries

Ref. mare.c.1(2021)8387036

Mrs Marian Hussenbux
Secretary International Campaigns
Animal Interfaith Alliance

Dear Mrs Hussenbux,

Thank you for your e-mail of 30 November 2020 on behalf of Animals Interfaith Alliance in Britain on the need for urgent measures to prevent by-catches of dolphins in the Bay of Biscay during the next winter season.

I take this matter very seriously and I am very concerned about the high number of stranded dolphins found dead on beaches in the Bay of Biscay and on other European coasts. Let me add that I am equally concerned about the impact of bycatch and other pressures on the critically endangered population of harbour porpoises in the Baltic Sea.

As Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries I have to ensure that EU legislation is upheld and enforced. This is why we have looked very carefully into this case.

I am convinced that, in order to address the issue of by-catch of cetaceans effectively, it is necessary to implement long-term solutions at the local and regional level that should be agreed between the authorities, fishers and civil society. My services are therefore in close contact with the stakeholders in the region through the South Western Waters Member States Group. Regional cooperation is a key element of our Common Fisheries Policy and a very important tool to implement appropriate measures. We have actively engaged with the administrations of the concerned Member States to support dialogue between them and to insist that they agree on measures to bring down incidental catches of dolphins in the Bay of Biscay, in accordance with the scientific advice published on 26 May 2020 by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), and with obligations stemming from EU legislation. We received the draft regional measures at the end of October, and it is true that I would have hoped to see more far-reaching actions proposed by the Member States. We have informed the relevant Member States that in line with the normal procedure under the Common Fisheries Policy we will ask for a scientific evaluation of these regional measures and their expected effectiveness.

It is important to reduce the high number of incidental catches of dolphins in the Bay of Biscay significantly for the current winter season. The Member States themselves also acknowledge this. This is why we have asked the Member States concerned to implement the necessary measures through their national legislation. France and Spain have already confirmed that they are implementing national measures as of 1 January 2021 by obliging fishing vessels to use acoustic deterrent devices. We hope that this will already go some way in reducing the by-catches of dolphins and we will in any case revisit this issue to see how much these measures were able to decrease such by-catches.

I would also like to inform you that the Commission has started infringement procedures against Spain and France for their failure to implement adequate monitoring of bycatch and appropriate conservation measures, inside and outside Natura 2000 sites. My services are currently assessing the replies of the competent authorities and further legal action is not excluded.

I hope I can count on your support also in the future to address the critical issue of by-catch of cetaceans.

Yours sincerely,
Virginijus Sinkevičius

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