According to conservationists the shy and elusive cetaceans are accidentally trapped in gillnets – nets that are set at the surface or on the seabed – causing them to suffocate and die.
A report by WWF and Sky Ocean Rescue estimates that on average 3 porpoises are killed each day. The estimate is based on numbers recorded by observers on-board larger vessels using gillnets. The conservationists said the scale of the problem could be far greater as smaller boats – under 10 metres in length – make up the majority of the gillnet fleet. UK waters are rich in marine life, which attracts both high numbers of porpoises and gillnet fisheries.
Helen McLachlan, WWF fisheries programme manager, said: “The tragic deaths of harbour porpoises are a national scandal that can no longer be ignored. Many Brits will be horrified to learn of the scale of the issue and shocked that these beautiful mammals could be dying in the very nets used to catch the fish on their dinner plates. We need to see governments step up and work with the fishing industry to introduce effective mitigation or new capture methods that don’t harm porpoises or other marine wildlife.”
It is estimated that the UK is home to around 177,000 harbour porpoises and two years ago six dedicated special areas of conservation were identified to protect the species across the UK.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “It is vital we manage our seas in a more sustainable way for future generations, which is why we’re committed to protecting cetaceans from bycatch in our waters and beyond.”