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Marine Science



UK Government falling short on protecting marine mammals. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has published the Government’s response to its report, Protecting Marine Mammals in the UK and Abroad.

The report, published in June, recommended stronger measures to tackle the problem of bycatch by introducing mandatory bycatch monitoring and called on DEFRA to publish an action plan to achieve this, with targets and timelines, by the end of 2023. We are therefore pleased to see that a consultation has taken place on extending remote electronic monitoring and will be taking a keen interest in how this moves forward.

However, while the Government agrees with the Committee on the need to reduce bycatch, it rejects the call for a UK-wide, targets-driven action plan, stating that each fisheries policy authority should set its own time targets and that DEFRA will next year develop a plan specifically for England.

Data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) show that, globally, 34 of the 92 cetacean (marine mammal) species fall into a threatened or near threatened category. Four endangered species, the blue whale, sei whale, fin whale and sperm whale, and one critically endangered species, the North Atlantic right whale, can be found in UK waters. Among the most prominent threats to marine mammals are bycatch and entanglement, commercial and hunting practices, vessel strikes, climate change and pollution.

In its report the Committee recommended that the Government introduce primary legislation to improve protection of marine mammals in UK waters, remarking that currently UK legislation and regulations are far below the standards provided by other countries. Responding to the EFRA Committee, the Government states that it does not plan to introduce primary legislation, citing that the legislation and international conventions currently in existence suffice.

The Government also rejects the Committee’s call to explore potential options to close the legal loophole on the transit of cetacean products through UK ports, on the grounds that these products only constitute a very small proportion of trade passing through the UK.

In its response, the Government agrees with the Committee in recognising the important role of marine mammals in marine ecosystems and global biodiversity and equally recognises the range of pressures these animals face, stating its commitment to protecting marine mammals. The response highlights the Government’s funding of research and development of technical solutions for marine mammal monitoring but rejects the Committee’s call for a dedicated ring-fenced fund to fill the significant data gaps we found currently exist.

The Committee’s report recommended that any new UK trade deal should include a clause on protecting marine mammals. The Government has not accepted this recommendation but states that it raises the issues of hunting of marine mammals in bilateral talks with countries who still engage in hunting.

On the subject of the Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy, led by the Scottish Government, the EFRA report urged DEFRA to expedite this strategy and its actions. The Government’s response affirms its commitment to the strategy but comments that time is needed to consult and consider all the factors. This is despite the draft strategy having been published in March 2021.

Chair’s comment

Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Sir Robert Goodwill, said:

“We welcome the Government’s commitment to the protection of marine mammals. However, our committee urged new legislation, increased funding and faster action to mitigate the pressing challenges on these valuable species and we are disappointed to note that in rejecting our recommendations the Government does not appear to be demonstrating an awareness of the necessary urgency and scale of the problems.”



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