Frontiers journals are at the top of citation and impact metrics

This article is part of the Research Topic

Wildlife Welfare

Review ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Vet. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fvets.2018.00287


  • 1Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, United Kingdom
  • 2Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, United Kingdom

The incidental capture of cetaceans and other protected marine wildlife in fishing gear has significant welfare implications. Many thousands of cetaceans are bycaught in fishing gear in European waters and hundreds of thousands die globally. We can expect many more to survive, but suffer from such interactions. As marine policy focuses on ‘population level’ impact assessments and ‘sustainability’ of fishing to preserve fish populations, the impacts to the individual, and their wider social group, are often largely underestimated, despite the large numbers affected. The wide range of recorded injuries, including abrasions, cuts, bruising and broken bones, along with the potential for panic associated with forced submersion, indicate that the welfare is, individually and collectively, very poor. Commercial fishing is the last human activity targeting wildlife (fish) on a grand scale where slaughter includes incidental killing of other large sapient wildlife on such a regular basis. Here, we review the compelling evidence of the short and long term welfare impacts of bycatch, and the progress made towards implementation of measures to understand and solve this significant welfare issue. We argue that policy decisions surrounding fishing do not adequately consider cetacean bycatch, including welfare impacts. Ultimately, there are welfare issues in all bycatch situations and suffering cannot plausibly be reduced without prevention. The well documented welfare implications provide a strong argument for zero tolerance of cetacean bycatch and provide a compelling case for immediate action in fisheries where bycatch is taking place. The only way to reduce the suffering is to decrease, or ideally eliminate, the number of animals caught in fishing gear. Uncertainties around the true magnitude of bycatch should not delay management decisions, even where individual bycatch estimates are considered ‘sustainable’. Lack of monitoring of sub-lethal impacts on populations may result in flawed impact assessments. We urge that animal welfare considerations should become an integral part of management decision-making in relation to bycatch globally. Enhanced, robust and transparent management systems are urgently required for the range of fisheries within which cetacean bycatch occurs, with the aim to better document and most importantly, work towards eliminating cetacean bycatch altogether.

Keywords: cetacean, bycatch, entanglement, welfare, Fishing, Europe

Received: 05 Sep 2018; Accepted: 30 Oct 2018.

Edited by:

Charlotte L. Berg, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden

Reviewed by:

Ricardo Serrão Santos, Universidade dos Açores, Portugal
Jo Hockenhull, University of Bristol, United Kingdom  

Copyright: © 2018 Dolman and Brakes. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Ms. Sarah J. Dolman, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Chippenham, SN15 1LJ, Wiltshire, United Kingdom,