IWDG welcome post-mortem of common dolphins

25th Apr 2013

IWDG welcome the post-mortems carried out at the Athlone Regional Veterinary Laboratory of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the common dolphins stranded on the northwest coast in March this year. The commissioning of post-mortems by suitably qualified vets has been a recommendation of the IWDG for many years and without this key information the cause of death of cetaceans washed up on the coast cannot be determined. IWDG congratulates the NPWS for taking this initiative.

Although IWDG have not yet seen the reports it is clear that the dolphins were drowned in fishing nets.  Presence of lesions on their bodies and fish in their stomach confirmed they had been caught in pelagic trawls. A large number of Irish and foreign vessels fish pelagic species in Irish waters but IWDG believes it was the large foreign freeze trawlers that were responsible for this bycatch. The large Irish vessels were fishing off north Scotland during March and the smaller vessels were sheltering from the storms hitting Ireland during that period. 

All fisheries in Europe with vessels larger than 15m are required to carry independent observers to quantify the bycatch of cetaceans and identify those fisheries with high bycatch rates. This Bycatch Regulation 812/2004 sets out the number of vessels in the fishery to be monitored and fishing areas where observers must operate.  Fisheries with high bycatch rates will be required to adopt mitigation measures such as the use of acoustic deterrents.

The Irish pelagic fleet have been collaborating with cetacean bycatch studies over the past two seasons with no cetacean bycatch reported. There is no information available on the bycatch rates of these large foreign vessels fishing in Irish waters and the IWDG wish to see the Irish government request all foreign vessels of a certain size and in certain fishery be compliant with this regulation.  

The Irish government is required to protect all species of cetacean in Irish waters and if a fishery is identified which has a high bycatch rate then all steps possible must be taken to reduce this bycatch to minimal levels. The problems of cetacean bycatch are international but Ireland must put pressure on the EU to ensure all EU fleets are compliant. 

Bycatch monitoring is difficult and bycatch a rare event but by systematically monitoring key fisheries those with a bycatch problem can be identified.  Failure to do this is in the opinion of the IWDG against the legal obligations of the Habotats and other EU Directives.

IWDG published a Commercial Fisheries Policy Document in 2006 oputl;ining this and other initiatives intended to reduce the impact of fishing activity on cetaceans (http://www.iwdg.ie/downloads/Commercial%20fishing%20policy%20document.pdf)

We hope NPWS will continue to use the services of the veterinary labs in the future to identify causes of death of future unusual stranding events as identified by the IWDG Cetacean Stranding Scheme.

Dr Simon Berrow

IWDG Executive Officer