Protecting cetaceans against incidental catch

Protecting cetaceans against incidental catch

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Protecting cetaceans against incidental catch


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Maritime Affairs And Fisheries > Management of fisheries resources and the environment

Protecting cetaceans against incidental catch

Document or Iniciative

Council Regulation (EC) No 812/2004 of 26 April 2004 laying down measures concerning incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries and amending Regulation (EC) No 88/98 [See amending act(s)].


This Regulation pursues a double objective. Firstly, it introduces technical measures concerning gill nets and trawls in specified areas (see Annex 1). Secondly, it creates a monitoring system on board fishing vessels to obtain information on by-catches of cetaceans in “at risk” fisheries (see Annex III).

Restrictions on the use of nets in the Baltic Sea

The prohibition of drift nets * is a necessary conservation measure, in compliance with Community law on fishery and the environment and existing international requirements. However, contrary to measures taken in Community waters, fishing with nets in the Baltic Sea was not banned in 2002, but in 2008, after a 3-year period of ongoing adaptation and the provision of financial support to help fishermen to change their fishing gear.

The incidental catch of harbour porpoises in fishing gear, particularly in drift nets, was identified as one of the main factors responsible for the decline in the porpoise population in the Baltic Sea in the last century. In the past, harbour porpoises were found in the whole of the Baltic Sea. Today, they are only found in the western part of the Baltic Sea. They are considered to be an endangered species and are listed in the Annex to the “Habitats” Directive. Recent studies have not shown any sign of recovery in the last ten years.

The use of acoustic deterrent devices

Various acoustic deterrent devices have been developed to keep cetaceans away from fishing gear and these have helped reduce incidental catches of cetaceans in certain fisheries using fixed gear.

This Regulation makes the use of these devices obligatory for all vessels of 12 metres or longer fishing in the zones, during the periods and using the gear listed in Annex I.

The Member States are obliged to monitor and assess, by means of scientific studies or pilot projects, the effect of using these deterrent devices on the number of cetaceans caught incidentally.

The devices used must comply with a series of technical specifications and conditions of use set out in Annex II to the Regulation.

Monitoring schemes for incidental catches

Member States design and implement monitoring schemes for incidental catches of cetaceans by vessels flying their flag. The aim is to obtain representative data on the fisheries concerned. For this purpose, vessels are divided into two categories:

  • for those with an overall length of 15 m or over, monitoring is carried out by on-board observers;
  • for vessels with an overall length of less than 15 m, data are collected by means of studies or pilot projects.

Observers must have appropriate experience and qualifications. Their task is to monitor the fishing operations of the vessels concerned, including incidental catches of cetaceans, and record data on fishing effort. They then send a report containing the results of the monitoring operation and a summary of the main findings to the competent authorities of the flag Member State.

Annual reports

The Member States must send the Commission a comprehensive annual report on the application of the measures concerning the use of acoustic devices and the monitoring of incidental catches, with estimates of the overall incidental catches of cetaceans in each of the fisheries concerned. The reports must also include an assessment of the conclusions set out in the reports filed by the observers and any other information that might be of use in reducing incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries.

Key terms used in the act
  • Driftnet fishing: any floating gillnet which drifts in accordance with the current or the vessel to which it may be attached. It is maintained at water level or at a certain level below this by using floating devices. It may be equipped with devices to stabilise the net or limit the extent of its drift.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 812/2004


OJ L 150 of 30.4.2004

Amending act(s) Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal

Regulation (EC) No 809/2007


OJ L 182 of 12.7.2007

Successive amendments and corrections to Regulation (EC) No 812/2004 have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated versionis of documentary value only.

Related Acts

Implementing the legislation

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council – Cetacean incidental catches in Fisheries : report on the implementation of certain provisions of Council Regulation (EC) No 812/2004 and on a scientific assessment of the effects of using in particular gillnets, trammel nets and entangling nets on cetaceans in the Baltic Sea as requested through Council Regulation (EC) No 2187/2005 [COM(2009) 368 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
To reduce the incidence of fishing activities on cetacean populations in Community waters, the Commission requires Member States to take all the measures necessary to improve the implementation of Regulation (EC) No 812/2004. The Commission also highlights the requirements of the “Habitats” Directive on Member States. It, therefore, invites them to monitor the incidental catch and slaughter of all whales and all cetaceans, and to ensure that these incidental catches and this slaughter do not have a significantly negative impact on the population of the species concerned.
The Commission plans to look at the possibility of developing new measures to strengthen the protection of cetaceans. It aims specifically to:

  • extend Regulation (EC) No 812/2004 to the Black Sea;
  • resolve problems regarding monitoring programmes, gear and areas by using the flexibility offered by Regulation (EC) No 812/2004;
  • integrate more systematically observations on incidental catches of cetaceans in national monitoring programmes;
  • encourage debate with industry through the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs);
  • define measurable objectives laying down the maximum levels of incidental catches for different cetacean species.

Data management in the fisheries sector

Council Regulation (EC) No 199/2008 of 25 February 2008 concerning the establishment of a Community framework for the collection, management and use of data in the fisheries sector and support for scientific advice regarding the Common Fisheries Policy [Official Journal L 60 of 5.3.2008].
The new data collection system covers the whole process, from the collection at ports and at sea to the use of data by the end users. It includes new provisions for data access and its use, as well as rules aimed at protecting the interests of data producers. The new framework not only supports the move towards an eco-system approach and fleet and fisheries-based management. It also places great importance on social and economic data which will form the basis of impact assessments with regard to introducing new legislative provisions and will enable performance monitoring of European fleets to be carried out. The Regulation concerns the collection of data by scientists for scientific means, without any link to the systems which monitor the use of quotas in the Member States under the framework of the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

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