IWDG propose no pelagic fishing in SACs for porpoise and dolphins

1st Jan 2014

The IWDG opinion is that no pelagic fishing should occur within Special Areas of Conservation which have cetaceans as a qualifying interest. This refers to Roaringwater Bay and Islands SAC, Blasket Islands SAC and Lower River Shannon SAC. The first two sites are designated for harbour porpoise while the latter is designated for bottlenose dolphins.

The issue is no so much of porpoise or dolphin bycatch in pelagic trawlers but the ecological effect of removal of large numbers of important prey items. The ecological impact of removal of important prey items could be result in changes to the distribution of the species in the bay (in contravention of a stated conservation objective of the EU Habitats Directive). The removal of herring, and sprat could have a significant impact on their foraging efficiency and hence on the life histories of harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphins especially their reproductive fitness. There is no evidence that local depletion of fish species does not adversely affect small cetaceans for which the SAC are designated and thus we think the precautionary principle should apply. 

IWDG recommend no fishing or removal of important pelagic species such as herring or sprat from Roaringwater Bay and Islands SAC, Blaskert Islands SDAC or the Lower River Shannon SAC until it can be shown not to have any significant impact on the foraging behaviour and requirements of harbour porpoise and bottlenose dolphin.

IWDG made a submission to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Assessment of Sea-Fishing and Aquaculture in Roaringwater Bay SAC. The Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation have recently written to the Minister at this Department Simon Coveney TD, expressing concern of sprat fishing in the Shannon Estuary this autumn. The SDWF have been raising this issue since 2004 and are considering taking it to the European Court of Justice.

IWDG are not opposed to commercial fishing and have always been very supportive of the fishing industry and coastal communities and work together on many issues. IWDG are also represented on the Celtic Sea Herring Advisory Management Committee which has been achieving huge success in the management of Celtic Sea herring.

The extent of SACs for cetaceans in Ireland is tiny and these habitats are supposed to represent some of the best available in Ireland for these species. If authorities cannot show there is NO impact of fishing especially on the removal of important prey items then they should not be allowed to fish in these sites.


Dr Simon Berrow

Head of Science, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group

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