New Project Will Tackle Whale Entanglement

Posted: 25 July 2002

Author: Cat Lazaroff

Almost 60,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are killed each year worldwide by entanglement with fishing nets, a coalition of the world's leading cetacean scientists reports.

The scientists have agreed to form a global response team, the Cetacean Bycatch Action Network, to assist governments and fishers in finding solutions to the problem.

The scientists, meeting in July 2002, at the New England Aquarium in conjunction with the regional meeting of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, released new research detailing the impact that unintentional bycatch by fishing vessels has on the world's 80 or so species of whales, dolphins and porpoises - classified together as cetaceans. "The numbers are staggering: my research estimates that at least 150 whales and dolphins die each day after being accidentally caught in commercial fisheries," said Dr. Andy Read of the Duke University Marine Laboratory, co-chair of the new Cetacean Bycatch Action Network.

In January 2002, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) convened a summit of the world's leading cetacean experts in Annapolis, Maryland, attended by 25 scientists from six continents. The group concluded that the single biggest threat facing cetaceans worldwide is death as bycatch in fishing gear.

Bycatch is the fishing industry's term for the capture of non-target species in fishing gear. Besides cetaceans and other marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds and non-commercial fish species also are regularly caught and killed unintentionally as bycatch.

The estimated number of cetaceans lost to bycatch is almost triple the average annual commercial catch of whales during the 20th century - about 21,470 a year - a rate of hunting that caused severe declines in almost all large whale species. While a global moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986, bycatch of cetaceans continues unabated in much of the world. "There are effective solutions being used by some fishermen around the world, but more action is needed to apply those lessons learned to other fisheries," said Read.

Read and the other 25 scientists involved in the January meeting are now forming a rapid response network to help governments, conservation organizations and fishers work together to address bycatch. The Cetacean Bycatch Action Network will work to find solutions to cetacean entanglement that work for individual fisheries.

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