Source: The Guardian
Dolphins and other marine mammals are being failed by the UK government, MPs have said, as they call for ministers not to sign trade deals without considering cetacean welfare.
The UK has poorer protections for dolphins, whales and seals than other countries, a report by the environment, food and rural affairs (Efra) committee has found.
MPs said trade deals were still being struck with countries that hunted whales and dolphins, including Norway, Iceland, Japan and the Faroe Islands, the autonomous Danish territory in the north Atlantic.
Ministers should use their “soft power” to encourage these countries to stop killing marine mammals, the committee recommended, using trade deals to incentivise the halting of the practice.
Other threats to the creatures include “bycatch” – inadvertent trapping in fishing gear – and underwater noise, such as from offshore drilling, which is dangerous for animals that depend on their hearing to navigate. Pollution, boat strikes and rising sea temperatures are further human-caused risks to marine mammals. The report called for better monitoring of bycatch. Estimates suggest 650,000 marine mammals are killed each year in fishing nets, but experts think the number could be significantly higher because of a lack of reporting. Suggested ways of reducing bycatch include using cameras or observers on ships. The committee is calling for an action plan, with targets and milestones, by December.
Sir Robert Goodwill, the Conservative MP who is chair of the committee, said: “We are rightly appalled when magnificent whales or defenceless seals are deliberately slaughtered. We can and should do more to stop this as we sign new post-Brexit trade deals worldwide.
“But snarling these beautiful creatures in fishing gear wreaks a far greater toll. Starting with the biggest boats, then moving to the smallest – giving the small operators time to adjust – we must stop this industrial-scale killing. We owe it to our generations to come.”
MPs pointed out that other countries have higher protections for marine mammals, and highlighted the 1972 US Marine Mammal Protection Act. They said the government should bring in primary legislation to protect seals and cetaceans. The UK has a globally significant grey seal population but they are not in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which means they do not have the greater protections provided for other creatures. This section of the act prohibits the intentional killing, injuring or taking of the species listed, and prohibits their possession or trade. MPs said seals should be added to this list as soon as possible.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The UK has a strong track record in marine conservation and places great importance on ensuring that appropriate protection and management is in place for marine mammals.
“We have already demonstrated our commitment through the likes of the marine wildlife bycatch mitigation initiative which outlines how the UK will achieve its ambitions to minimise and, where possible, eliminate the bycatch of sensitive marine species. We will now carefully consider the recommendations set out in the report.”