Protecting Marine Mammals in the UK and Abroad

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Sixth Report of Session 2022–23

Author: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Related inquiry: Marine Mammals

Date Published: 28 June 2023

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Contents

1 Introduction

The importance of marine mammals

1. Global biodiversity is in crisis. The current rate of decline is unparalleled in human history1 and the UK has been cited as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.2 The 2021 report of the Independent Review on the Economics of Biodiversity, led by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, concluded that our current “unsustainable” relationship with Nature is “endangering the prosperity of current and future generations”.3 New scientific research led by the China University of Geosciences, published in March 2023, meanwhile, is even more stark, suggesting that unless urgent action is taken to reverse wildlife losses, the world is heading towards an inevitable total ecosystem collapse.4 This would have a significant impact on humans, who rely on healthy ecosystems to provide clean air, water and food.5

2. In the marine environment, mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals play a vital role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in a variety of different ways. They are key species in the cycling of nutrients - for example, bringing nitrogen and other chemical compounds to the surface, leading to phytoplankton growth which in turn provides food for several other marine organisms and increases ocean productivity.6 Marine mammals occur throughout the world’s oceans and can be herbivores, batch feeders (on plankton and small fish), and both intermediate and apex predators.7 They can also help combat climate change–according to recent research, a great whale removes the equivalent of ten Britons’ annual carbon footprint,8 giving it an economic value as a carbon-capture asset over a 60-year lifespan of between $2.5m and $3m.9 Marine mammals are also some of the most charismatic and loved creatures on earth. They are important in recreation and tourism which helps support coastal economies and communities, as well as being inspiring flagship species for marine conservation.10

3. Larger marine mammal species are also often championed as ‘indicator’ or ‘sentinel’ species, meaning that the health of their populations can be seen to reflect the health of the marine environment more generally.11 This is due to several factors, including their range, relatively long life spans and responses to environmental variability - for example, changing migration patterns can be indicative of sea temperature rises due to climate change;12 while analysis of whale blubber can reflect the levels of chemical pollutants in the areas where they live.13 Similarly, changes in marine mammal distribution, abundance and behaviour can give clues as to changes lower down the food chain, while many marine mammal species share coastal environments with humans and consume similar food stocks, and as such can also be potential sentinels for public health problems.14 For all these reasons, marine mammals can be seen as offering up early warning signs of potentially significant environmental issues.15

4. These species, however, are facing increasing pressures from a variety of sources which threaten population numbers and welfare. This includes bycatch–when marine mammals are caught in fishing operations targeting other species–as well as noise from shipping and offshore development; vessel strikes from increasing marine traffic; pollution from both chemicals and plastic; and climate change.16 Despite significant advances in recent years, species such as whales, dolphins and walruses also continue to be hunted by a small number of countries for commercial reasons, including for meat, fur and body parts.17

5. It was against this backdrop that a group of hundreds of marine mammal experts from more than 40 countries published a statement in 2020 expressing “grave concerns” about the “real and imminent” extinction risk to many species and populations. The statement accused policymakers of failing to take “concrete action” to address the many threats to marine mammals and charged countries with lacking political will.18

Our inquiry

6. We launched this inquiry on 29 April 2022 with the following terms of reference:

  • What is the status of marine mammal populations?
  • How, and for what purpose, are marine mammals being killed?
  • Beyond whaling, what human behaviours are affecting whale populations and how?
  • How effective are the global protections of marine mammals?
  • What role can the UK Government play to protect and promote the conservation of marine mammals internationally?

7. The inquiry looked at domestic policy concerning marine mammal protections (which is largely a devolved matter) as well as the UK’s role on the global stage. The primary focus was on cetaceans, a class of marine mammal which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. This is largely down to the fact that cetaceans account for more species than all other classes combined19 - a factor reflected in the balance of the evidence we received. However, we also considered pinnipeds (a class which includes seals and walruses) and, to a lesser extent, sirenians–a class of large aquatic plant-eating mammals such as manatees and dugongs.

8. We received over 30 pieces of written evidence and held oral evidence sessions with conservation specialists, scientists, campaigners, and ministers and officials from both Defra and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). We would like to thank everyone who contributed evidence to the inquiry.

The status of marine mammals

9. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)–a membership union which comprises more than 1400 organisations from across governments and civil society–is the global authority on the status of the natural world.20 It regularly publishes its ‘Red List’ of threatened species which categorises species according to their vulnerability, taking into account the best available evidence.21

10. The latest data from the IUCN Red List (version 2022–2) show that, globally, 34 of the 92 cetacean species fall into a threatened or near threatened category. Of these, 12 species are endangered including the blue whale, sei whale and Amazon river dolphin. Five are critically endangered: the Yangtze river dolphin, vaquita, Atlantic humpback dolphin, North Atlantic right whale, and Rice’s whale. In addition to this, four of the five species of manatee and dugong are classed as vulnerable, with numbers decreasing. The picture in relation to seals is more positive, with 14 of the 19 species categorised as Least Concern.22

11. Defra told us that 28 species of cetacean are recorded in the UK, with 12 regularly seen.23 Five threatened species can be found in UK waters: the North Atlantic right whale, blue whale, sei whale, fin whale and sperm whale. Two species of seal are found in the UK - the grey seal and common (or harbour) seal.24 Grey seal numbers have surged in recent years; indeed, Britain now accounts for 40% of their global population.25 Harbour seals are faring less well, with numbers declining since 2019,26 though they are still classified as Least Concern.

12. We heard from Prof David Lusseau of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group that there can be significant variability in how species are faring in different parts of the world.27 Similarly, Rob Deaville, project manager of the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), stressed that species-level assessments can sometimes miss serious issues with smaller populations. As a stark and sobering example, he told us: “The community of killer whales off the west coast of Scotland is the last remaining population of killer whales left around the UK in terms of coastal distribution. They now number between four and five individuals… That population will go extinct in our lifetime.”28

2 Threats to Marine Mammals

Mosaic of threats

13. Scientific research and the evidence received by our inquiry details numerous factors which threaten the population numbers and welfare of marine mammals. Among the most prominent of these are:

  • Bycatch/entanglement: These terms refer to marine mammals being incidentally caught in fishing equipment which is intended to catch other species. It can affect different populations and species in different geographical areas. Gillnets pose the highest risk,29 though other fishing gears can also be problematic. Bycatch is commonly held to be the most significant single threat to marine mammals;30 Chapter 5 examines this in greater detail.
  • Commercial factors and hunting practices: Despite protections afforded by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium [see also Chapter 6], cetaceans, dugongs, manatees and walruses are still killed in some countries for commercial reasons, including for meat, fur and body parts (such as tusks).31 Though we heard hunting is now largely a ‘managed threat’ in terms of conservation,32 it is still being undertaken by various countries including Norway, Iceland, Japan and the Faroe Islands.33 It remains as a welfare issue - something brought sharply into focus by the September 2021 “grind” hunt in the Faroe Islands which resulted in the deaths of over 1400 white-sided dolphins, sparking condemnation34 and leading to a debate in the UK Parliament.35
  • Noise: There are many sources of underwater noise including shipping; offshore development and drilling; and military operations. Impacts on marine mammals can range from masking communications through to disturbance of normal behaviours and physical impacts.36 The fact that hearing is the primary sense for marine mammals37 means noise can have a disproportionate effect.
  • Vessel strikes: Collisions with vessels have been shown to affect at least 75 species and this is an increasing concern as marine traffic around the world grows in both volume and speed. Vessel strikes can lead to fatal or serious injury.38
  • Climate change: Another threat increasing in significance in recent years, climate change impacts can take a number of forms. These range from the effects of extreme weather events such as severe storms, which in some cases can result in strandings, to longer term impacts related to ocean warming. These include changes to migratory patterns which can affect breeding habitats and prey abundance.39
  • Pollution: Chemical pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)40 and per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS - sometimes known as ‘forever chemicals’)41 have been found in a variety of marine mammals in levels exceeding known toxicity thresholds which is likely to cause population declines. This is despite PCBs being phased out in the 1980s. Meanwhile, plastic pollution, including discarded fishing gear, can also harm or kill marine mammals via ingestion and/or entanglement.42
  • Disease: Marine mammals are susceptible to diseases including phocine distemper, which has previously depleted seal numbers in the UK following outbreaks in 1988 and 200243, and potentially Avian influenza, which was reported earlier this year to have killed thousands of sea lions in South America44 and warrants further research.

14. We heard how the combined effect of these multiple stressors - described by Rob Deaville as “a mosaic of threats”45 - is very complex but that they could be interacting in ways that amplify the impact on species and/or individual populations.46 As Dr Carol Sparling, Director of the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), told us: “We have maybe replaced one single, more directly manageable impact of hunting and exploitation with a whole myriad of different stressors that are very hard and complex to research and manage”.47

Data deficiency and the precautionary principle

15. Several respondents to our inquiry told us that a lack of data means there is a great deal of uncertainty around population trends.48 Around 10% of cetacean species are categorised by the IUCN as data deficient.49 Whilst this is a significant improvement on the situation 20 years ago,50 it remains the case that not enough is known about the status of many species and populations, particularly those which are deep diving and highly mobile. In addition, we heard how new species and populations are still being discovered which can then rapidly be recognised as being threatened, as is the case with Rice’s whale, first recognised in 202151 having been previously wrongly identified as a subpopulation of Bryde’s whale; and the Orca population in the Strait of Gibraltar.52

16. In light of this, respondents to our inquiry including Dr Sparling;53 Whale and Dolphin Conservation;54 and Mark Simmonds, Director of Science at OceanCare;55 advocated the use of a precautionary principle approach to policy-making. This would mean that, in the absence of enough scientific data to fully inform conservation and mitigation plans, policies should err on the side of caution in terms of marine mammal protection. As Rob Deaville told us: “We could be having a profound impact on some of these populations without even knowing they are there.”56

17. The Government’s Environmental Principles Policy Statement57 details five principles which should be applied to support environmental protection and enhancement. Policymakers should consider and use the principles iteratively from the outset and during subsequent stages in policy development. They should identify the potential environmental effects (positive or negative) and use the principles to inform and influence the design of the policy. The Environment Act 2021 places a legal duty on Ministers of the Crown to have due regard to this statement,58 the final version of which was laid in Parliament in January 2023 following a lengthy consultation period, though this duty does not come into force until 1st November 2023.59 Among the principles is the precautionary principle. The guidance on the applicability of the precautionary principle states that gaps in the scientific evidence base “should not be used as a reason for inaction” if there is a “plausible and real” risk of serious or irreversible harm, as long as the choices considered to prevent or reduce the environmental degradation in question are cost-effective - though it goes on to state that the precautionary principle “should not be applied speculatively”.60

18. Species-level assessments can sometimes mask profound issues with specific populations or communities of marine mammals; for example, it is thought that the last remaining coastal community of killer whales in the UK will disappear within our lifetimes. It is also the case that new cetacean species and populations are being discovered which are then very quickly found to be threatened. For these reasons, taking a precautionary approach to policymaking is particularly important for marine mammal conservation. We also condemn the abuse of IWC guidelines whereby certain countries carry out de facto commercial operations under the guise of scientific research. While we acknowledge that the legal duty to have due regard in policymaking to the Environmental Principles Policy Statement, including the precautionary principle, does not come into force until 1 November 2023, Defra should prioritise marine mammal protection in the application of this principle when formulating relevant policy in advance of that date. Defra should also consider further research into disease in marine mammals.

3 Monitoring

Latest assessments

19. Data is vital for drawing accurate conclusions on population size, dynamics and changes over time, all of which are necessary prerequisites for an informed and effective policy response. However, as noted in Chapter 2, robust monitoring data is lacking. The 2013–18 assessment of cetacean conservation status for UK waters carried out by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) - the public body that advises the UK Government and devolved administrations on nature conservation - found that all cetacean species were listed as ‘unknown’,61 and as such it is not possible to know whether populations are stable, in decline or increasing.

20. The Government’s UK Marine Strategy62 provides the framework for assessing and monitoring the status of our seas and putting in place measures needed to achieve good environmental status (GES). There are eleven descriptors used to aid GES assessment, including the extent of biological diversity, contaminants, eutrophication (the process by which a body of water becomes progressively enriched with minerals and nutrients) and underwater noise.63 The latest assessment, conducted in 2018 by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)64 - an executive agency of Defra - painted a mixed picture for marine mammals; while GES was achieved for some species, such as the minke whale and grey seal, again data was, as Rt Hon Lord Benyon, Minister for Biosecurity, Marine and Rural Affairs at Defra, told us, “Not sufficient to confidently understand the status of many other species”.65

21. In light of this, many contributors to the inquiry, such as the SMRU,66 Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC)67 and the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group,68 believe more investment is needed in marine mammal monitoring, including establishing baselines, population trends and mortality.

Marine mammal monitoring programmes

22. Ministers told us that the Government supports a range of marine mammal monitoring initiatives both in UK waters and on a broader spatial scale, most notably through OSPAR - the mechanism (named after the Oslo and Paris Conventions) by which 15 governments together with the EU work together to protect the marine environment in the North-East Atlantic. Monitoring programmes and associated methodologies are developed with the devolved administrations, other Government departments and with scientists in the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS) evidence groups.69 Key cetacean programmes to which UK authorities contribute include:

  • The Small Cetacean Abundance in European Waters and the North Sea (SCANS) survey, which conducts large-scale multilateral aerial and ship surveys to provide comprehensive abundance and distribution data for cetacean species. For the fourth iteration of the SCANS survey in 2022, Defra provided £550,000 of funding and Marine Scotland contributed £50,000.70
  • The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), which investigates the causes of death of stranded animals to improve our understanding of the threats to marine mammals. Defra is providing over £3m of funding for CSIP alongside approximately £590,000 from the Welsh Government, via a ten-year contract from 2021–2031.71
  • The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS), which has received £480,000 of funding from the Scottish Government on a three-year basis. SMASS was previously integrated with CSIP but, as of 2021, is managed as a separate project, though the two schemes continue to collaborate and share data.72
  • The Bycatch Monitoring Programme, which estimates bycatch rates for marine mammals across UK fisheries. Ministers told us in January that Defra recently tendered for a new three-year contract for this programme that will “expand it and diversify the monitoring methods that are used”.73 Bycatch is dealt with in more detail in Chapter 5 of this report.
  • The East Coast Marine Mammal Acoustic Study (ECOMMAS), run by Marine Scotland since 2013, which uses echolocation click detectors at 30 sites on the east coast of Scotland to monitor dolphin and harbour porpoise populations.74

23. Seal monitoring is carried out by the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).75 We heard from SMRU’s Director, Dr Carol Sparling, how their funding had remained flat since 2018, amounting to a real terms cut of 20%, and how this in turn meant the frequency of surveys had been reduced.76 Dr Sparling also told us that she believed the monitoring of cetaceans lacked top-down governmental influence compared to seals and was instead “driven from individual scientists and their relationships with cross-European organisations”.77

Improving the efficiency of monitoring

24. We heard how accurate monitoring of highly mobile marine mammal species in deep offshore waters is a particularly difficult and costly endeavour. As Prof Lusseau told us, the most reliable current method of monitoring is still to visually count individuals via ships or aerial surveys, and this is “very expensive to do”.78 Respondents to the inquiry cited two principal ways to improve the efficiency of monitoring: greater application of emerging technological solutions and increased use of ‘citizen science’ - collection and analysis of data typically by volunteer groups and members of the public.

Use of technology

25. We heard several examples of how new technology is being, or could be, used for marine mammal monitoring. Among the most prominent are:

  • Remote electronic monitoring (REM), which refers to the use of integrated on-board systems of cameras, fishing gear sensors, video storage and Global Positioning System (GPS) units.79 Its principal use is to collect data on bycatch.
  • Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM), which entails using submerged microphones to record long time-series sounds which can be used to determine species presence.80 This enables a finer picture to be built up that the broader snapshot produced by visual surveys such as SCANS.
  • The use of low altitude satellites that can automatically detect larger-bodied cetaceans in images.81
  • Distributed acoustic sensing (DAS), a new technique which can convert existing underwater fibre optic cables into hydrophones (essentially underwater microphones - which are usually very expensive).82

26. These approaches have the potential to revolutionise the collection of marine mammal data. Prof Lusseau cited PAM and the use of satellites as the most promising avenues,83 while Dr Sparling suggested AI might assist in future.84 However, emerging technologies still require some research and development and are not without their challenges. This includes access to and interrogation of the relevant technologies (in the case of DAS),85 understanding how many animals are under water compared to those seen on the surface (when using satellites)86 and the resources and expertise required to process colossal amounts of data (in the case of PAM).87

27. When questioned on Government support for new monitoring technology, James Smith, Deputy Director, International Marine Environment at Defra, cited their Marine Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA)88 as a new “flagship programme”89 and referenced the importance of competition to technological advancement. Ministers told us of a £1.5m innovation competition with industry, under the Marine NCEA, to help improve observation of biodiversity, “including marine mammals”.90 In May 2023, Innovate UK and UKRI announced that eleven projects had been awarded a share of the first round of funding, totalling £835,415.91 While a small number of these have the potential to assist in marine mammal monitoring - notably the project to develop a deployable instrument for use by marine biodiversity assessors to quantitatively measure and analyse DNA obtained from marine water samples - the majority are focused on other aspects of the marine environment.92

Citizen science

28. We were told by Rob Deaville and Dr Carol Sparling that citizen science initiatives, both externally-funded and volunteer-driven, could add considerable value to more formal programmes such as their own, providing adequate training and data protocols were in place.93 Examples of successful citizen science ventures include marine conservation charity ORCA, which works to identify and protect critical whale and dolphin habitats in UK waters and beyond via teams of volunteers;94 and British Divers Marine Life Rescue, which contributes valuable data to organisations like CSIP.95 However, the Marine Mammal Observer Association caution that volunteers and citizen science should not be relied upon and stress the need for qualified observers with comprehensive training in paid jobs in marine conservation.96

29. Lord Benyon told us that “we must be using all data sources” including citizen science.97 Part 2 of the UK Marine Strategy acknowledges that there are opportunities to “use citizen science data or emerging technology more effectively” to address “gaps in our monitoring programmes”,98 while the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy aims to ensure data is made openly available for long-term access and use, thereby yielding economic, societal and scientific benefits by reducing duplication of effort and applying best practice data management procedures.99 The Joint Cetacean Data Programme (JCDP),100 which sits under the JNCC, provides such a framework; this was funded by Defra from 2019 until the launch of the platform in 2022101 but is now managed by a working group sitting under the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) - an intergovernmental marine science organisation.102 Through the Marine NCEA programme, Defra is also reviewing and developing robust protocols for citizen science (through Natural England) and scoping the possibility of mobilising acoustic evidence held by citizen groups.103

30. Monitoring of marine mammals is difficult and costly. However, without sufficient monitoring data it is not possible to tailor a properly informed policy response to the challenges these animals face. It is therefore vital not only that support for monitoring programmes is increased but also that all opportunities are taken to make monitoring more efficient. We heard that increased use of technology and citizen science are two key ways in which to seek to achieve this.

31. We believe investment in new technological solutions is the most effective way of upscaling marine mammal monitoring and filling the data gaps which currently hamper policy responses in this area. Among the most promising technologies are passive acoustic monitoring and the use of low-altitude satellites, while AI could also play a role. When asked about its commitment to technological solutions to marine mammal monitoring, the Government cited the £1.5m innovation competition with industry aimed at improving observation of biodiversity, under the Marine Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA). However, the vast majority of the projects awarded funding under the first round of this initiative have little or no focus on marine mammals specifically, meaning this approach is completely inadequate in this context. We recommend that a new initiative should be launched specifically to encourage the development of new technological solutions to marine mammal monitoring, with ring-fenced funding that at least matches the existing £1.5m Marine NCEA innovation competition.

4 UK Policy and Legislative Framework

Patchwork of legislation

32. Marine mammals are protected in UK waters by a complex series of inter-related pieces of legislation, including:104

  • Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
  • Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985
  • Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations 1994
  • Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017
  • Conservation (Natural Habitats etc.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995
  • Conservation of Offshore Marine Habitats and Species Regulations 2017
  • Conservation of Seals Act 1970
  • Marine (Scotland) Act 2010

33. Chris Butler Stroud, Chief Executive of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, told us this amounts to “a series of pieces of legislation that all interconnect but do not quite add up as a whole”.105 Similarly, Simmonds et al conclude that the UK “does not have an adequately coherent and effective set of laws and regulations to properly protect marine mammals in UK waters”.106 They also point out that some measures which seek to protect marine mammals use legislation designed to regulate the fishing industry, and that this gives rise to an “inherent tension”.107 Furthermore, we heard how the lack of coherence in the legislative landscape had given rise to certain loopholes, particularly around intentional or reckless disturbance and harassment (which is currently an offence for whales and dolphins but not for seals)108 and the transit of cetacean products through UK ports (which remains legal despite the UK’s strong stance against hunting).109 Witnesses contrasted the situation in the UK with the US Marine Mammals Protection Act, which we heard was a much more coherent approach that provides certainty of process for both the conservation community and the fishing industry.110

34. When questioned on whether consolidated legislation was necessary to properly protect marine mammals, Lord Benyon told us the current situation was “not bad at covering the issues at hand” but conceded that “I am not sure you would have started from here. You would probably start with a bespoke piece of legislation that covered all of this… Perhaps we should have done that in the Marine Act in 2009”.111 He did, however, caution that Parliamentary time was often an issue.112 In relation to the loopholes described above, Lord Benyon informed us that the JNCC had submitted recommendations to environment ministers across Great Britain for changes to the species on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act which would add seals to the list.113 Regarding the transit of cetacean products through UK ports, Rt Hon Lord Goldsmith, Minister for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment at FCDO, told us that there were very few incidents of this but agreed even one was too many and that “this is a loophole that ought to be closed”.114 We heard from Lord Benyon that this would require primary legislation;115 however, Whale and Dolphin Conservation suggested to us that the use of bylaws and/or the introduction of a statutory instrument to amend current legislation could also achieve the same aim.116

35. The current UK legal framework around the protection of marine mammals is incoherent and not sufficient to effectively preserve these precious species. UK measures are in stark contrast to best practice exemplified internationally by the 1972 US Marine Mammal Protection Act, and, as ministers conceded to us in evidence, there are concerning loopholes that harm marine species. We strongly endorse the JNCC’s recommendation that seals be added to the list of species in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act to protect them from reckless disturbance, and wish to see this implemented as soon as practicable. We also recommend that Defra should work with stakeholders and their legal advisers to explore ways to close the loophole which currently allows the transit of cetacean products through UK ports. We call for an assessment by the Department of options and their feasibility, in a supplementary response to this Report, by December 2023.

36. We further recommend that the Government should bring in bespoke primary legislation on marine mammal protection over the course of the next Parliament.

Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy

37. The UK Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy (DPCS)117 is a joint initiative developed by the Scottish Government in collaboration with Defra and other devolved administrations and agencies. A draft version was consulted on in March 2021, yet over two years later no final version has been published. The strategy aims to achieve and/or maintain favourable conservation status for the most common dolphin and porpoise species in UK waters (plus the minke whale) by managing key pressures and initiating new actions where necessary, through collaborative working.

38. Stakeholders have broadly welcomed the strategy in terms of its aims and intent118 but have questioned the lack of accompanying SMART targets to galvanise and structure implementation.119 As Chris Butler Stroud told us, “when aspirations are too widely described then you can get a lot of talk but very little action”; conversely, he said that when targets are set, “productivity seems to go up enormously”.120 We also heard concerns about the scope of the strategy. While Defra’s own written evidence to the inquiry stated that, of 28 cetacean species recorded in the UK, 12 are “regularly seen”,121 the DPCS only covers eight species of dolphin and porpoise, plus the minke whale. Mr Butler Stroud told us this was an insufficient level of granular detail and that “really we should be looking at that 17 to 27 species we find in UK waters”.122

39. When giving evidence, Lord Benyon was clear that “the species we are talking about know no boundaries, so, even though the management of them is a devolved issue, we have to work very closely with the devolved governments to make it happen”.123 Asked directly about the need to work collaboratively with the devolved administrations, he said: “It is vital that we do”.124 Ministers later told us that the UK administrations were planning to reconvene in 2023 to discuss next steps further to the consultation, including the consideration of targets and action plans “for each Administration”.125

40. We are disappointed that, two years on from the consultation, there is still no final version of the Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy. We recommend that Defra works closely with the Scottish Government to ensure that SMART targets be included in the final strategy for each species covered, on which the Administrations should work together (as opposed to each having their own targets and action plans). Defra should also work with the Scottish Government to expand the strategy to cover all 12 species cited as “regularly seen” in UK waters. The final strategy, including all these elements, should be published no later than January 2024.

Highly Protected Marine Areas

41. In June 2019, Lord Benyon (then a backbench Conservative MP) led an independent review into the possible introduction, in English inshore and offshore and Northern Ireland offshore zones, of the strongest protections for areas of sea, known as highly protected marine areas (HPMAs).126 These focus on achieving full recovery of marine ecosystems, giving nature “the best chance to thrive” and have been described by the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) as “an essential cornerstone of responsible ocean stewardship”.127 Prohibited activities in HPMAs include commercial and recreational fishing, dredging, construction and anchoring. In its final report in June 2020, the Benyon review made 25 recommendations on how HPMAs should be introduced and managed. In its June 2021 response to the review,128 the Government agreed with the bulk of the recommendations and said the first HPMAs would be piloted by the end of 2022. Following consultations on five pilot sites, it was announced in February 2023 that three would be formally designated by July, two of which - Dolphin Head and North East of Farnes Deep - are known to be marine mammal habitats.129 However, the other two have not been progressed. The Scottish Government launched its own consultation on HPMAs in December 2022.130

42. The summary of the 915 responses to the 2022 consultation on HPMAs131 reported that overall, 56% supported the designation of pilot HPMAs in English waters and 36% were opposed, with the main reasons for opposition being the direct and indirect impact on livelihoods. We heard similarly mixed views. Chris Butler Stroud welcomed their introduction, calling the Benyon review “excellent”,132 but stressed that effective implementation was key–a view echoed by Wildlife and Countryside Link.133 Conversely, fishing industry representatives are worried that HPMAs would reduce catching opportunities and further exacerbate the ‘spatial squeeze’ cited by fishers as a major concern to their business. The Benyon review report acknowledges these concerns.134 However, Lord Benyon told us that “when it is done right, the greatest supporters of them tend to be the fishermen, because out of them comes an enormous biomass fish that they can exploit”.135 He acknowledged that such support was vital if they were to succeed,136 and also told us proper management plans would be in place by 2024.137

43. We believe HPMAs are an important tool in marine mammal conservation which can play a key role in ensuring sustainable marine ecosystems. We support the rollout of the three HMPAs due to be formally designated by July 2023 and wish to see others follow. It is vitally important that their introduction is subject to comprehensive and ongoing engagement with the fishing industry, especially given increasing spatial pressures. We call on the Government to publish an ambitious timetable for the designation of HPMAs and to outline their monitoring and enforcement strategy by the end of 2023.

5 Bycatch

44. Bycatch - the unintentional catching of non-target species in fishing operations - was consistently cited by contributors to our inquiry as the biggest single issue faced by marine mammals both globally and in the UK, killing more animals than any other threat.138 Rob Deaville told us bycatch had been “the consistent and main direct driver of manmade mortality in the UK over the 30 years we [CSIP] have been running” and was “a significant UK issue”.139 Estimates vary, but a 2021 report commissioned by Humane Society International and WDC indicates over 1000 cetaceans a year are bycaught in UK waters,140 while a scientific paper from 2006 suggested over 650,000 marine mammals are killed in this way each year globally.141 The degree of suffering for marine mammals which become entangled in fishing gear has led to it being described as “one of the grossest abuses of wild animal sensibility in the modern world”.142

Bycatch monitoring

45. Defra’s Bycatch Monitoring Programme has been in operation since 1996,143 and in 2021 a licence condition was introduced for all commercial vessels fishing in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to report any bycatch of marine mammals within 48 hours of the end of the trip.144 However, we heard concerns that there was significant underreporting of bycatch despite this requirement.145 This has led to suggestions from some witnesses that the current self-reporting regime should be replaced and that mandatory bycatch monitoring, using on-board observers and/or Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM), should be introduced.146

46. Lord Benyon accepted that “bycatch monitoring is key and there are some data holes we need to fill”.147 He referred to a new pilot project worth over £1 million over three years to expand and diversify monitoring techniques.148 However, he also stressed the importance of collaboration and consent, telling us: “There was a lot of bad feeling in the fishing industry when we were forcing them to have cameras monitoring bycatch. Gradually, they came round to it and I think that it is actually quite accepted now”–though he did add that this was more of a challenge for smaller vessels.149 We heard that putting observers on a small fishing boat can mean having to take a member of the crew off and therefore that mandatory monitoring was a far greater burden on smaller vessels than on larger ones.150 When asked about the potential impact on competitiveness of mandating bycatch monitoring, Lord Benyon suggested that “We might have to find some differential assistance that allows the smaller fishers and artisanal vessels some access to some innovation fund. We have plenty of areas of funding for sustainability in the fishing sector. That may be something we want to explore… We need to make sure we are being fair by those whose income is least”.151

47. Current levels of bycatch monitoring are insufficient to gain an accurate picture of the numbers of marine mammals killed or injured in this way, despite the requirement for vessels to report marine mammal bycatch. While we heard suggestions that mandatory remote electronic monitoring (REM) should be introduced, we are mindful of the significant burden such a requirement would place on the fishing industry, especially smaller vessels. We therefore recommend that the Government introduces mandatory bycatch monitoring, but that this is phased over several years, with smaller vessels being given extra time and, where necessary, financial support to meet their obligations. We would like to see an action plan to achieve this, with targets and milestones, by December 2023.

Bycatch Mitigation Initiative

48. The UK Bycatch Mitigation Initiative (BMI)152 was published in August 2022 by Defra and the devolved administrations and seeks to identify high-risk areas, gear types and/or fisheries, and implement effective measures to reduce and, where possible, eliminate bycatch. This builds on previous action such as Clean Catch UK 1, a collaborative research programme run by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) to which Defra has contributed £1.1m over the project duration (2019–2023), and is due to be succeeded by a second phase, Clean Catch 2, from August 2023.153 Clean Catch 1 focused primarily on Cornwall and included trials of acoustic deterrent devices (‘pingers’). We heard how the evidence of the effectiveness of pingers is somewhat nuanced, with some studies indicating they can be effective, and others suggesting that the noises can, over time, become a ‘dinner bell’ for marine mammals who learn to associate them with an abundance of prey.154 The BMI includes objectives to support the development of modified and alternative gears, and to identify and adopt effective incentives for fisheries to implement such measures - something which was acknowledged as an important consideration by a number of witnesses.155

49. As with the Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy referred to in Chapter 4, stakeholders were largely positive in their assessment of the overall intent of the BMI, but somewhat critical of the lack of action plans and targets. As Lucy Babey, Deputy Director and Head of Science and Conservation at ORCA, told us: “It is fantastic that the UK has this. The document includes all the critical areas required”. But she added: “the vision and rhetoric are there, but unfortunately it is the action that is missing”.156 Similarly, Wildlife & Countryside Link advocate the introduction of SMART targets with progressive reductions in bycatch numbers.157 While ministers told us that the BMI is a joint document by the UK Government and Devolved Administrations, they said implementation was “a matter for individual fisheries policy authorities, which have different circumstances and priorities and are at different stages in the policy cycle”. They therefore deemed it “not appropriate for the BMI to prescribe the exact method or timeframe that the fisheries policy authorities will use to develop and implement policies”, adding: “it will be for each fisheries policy authority to set time bound targets, where appropriate, within their area of competence”.158

50. We also heard of the need to develop solutions that are specific to different areas depending on gear type, species caught as bycatch, and consideration of mitigation methods.159 While ministers concurred with the need for such a targeted approach, Lord Benyon suggested further research was needed to properly understand this.160 However, Simmonds et al told us there was already sufficient evidence to warrant a more urgent approach in “known and well researched fleets”, in the Celtic Sea, the south-west of England and elsewhere.161

51. Accidental bycatch in fishing gear is the biggest single threat to marine mammals and has been described as “one of the grossest abuses of wild animal sensibility in the modern world”. While the Bycatch Mitigation Initiative and Clean Catch programmes have made some progress on this issue, efforts to tackle bycatch need to be stepped up. This must be done in close consultation with scientists, NGOs and the fishing industry, who must be supported to take part in appropriate trials, including via financial incentives where necessary. We recommend that Defra and the devolved administrations work together to produce a UK-wide action plan with SMART targets to significantly bring down bycatch numbers. These targets should be developed in consultation with scientists, NGOs and the fishing industry and include consideration of risk factors such as location, gear type and species. Action should begin in the high-risk fleets cited by our witnesses as soon as practicable, and at the very latest be in place by June 2024.

6 The UK on the International Stage

International Marine Mammal Protections

52. The International Whaling Commission (IWC), initially established in 1946 as the global body responsible for sustainable management of whaling activities, has been a key mechanism for conservation initiatives. A global moratorium on commercial whaling was introduced via the IWC in 1982.162 Whaling classed as Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) is not subject to the moratorium. ASW refers to limited whaling carried out in places where whale products play an important role in the nutritional and cultural life of native peoples; this is carried out by Denmark (Greenland), Russia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the USA (Alaska).163 A number of other countries also still hunt large whales for commercial purposes, including Norway,164 Iceland165 and Japan.166 Other key international protections include:

  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which regulates, and aims to ensure the sustainability of, international trade in marine mammal specimens;167 and
  • The UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which aims to protect species by conserving or restoring their habitats.168 One of its primary functions has been to facilitate regional “daughter agreements” for various species and populations. One of the most significant of these is ASCOBANS169–the Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic, North-East Atlantic, Irish and North Seas, to which the UK is a party

53. Defra told us that, while the UK accepts whaling for subsistence purposes where there is a clearly defined need, it is a strong supporter of the global moratorium on whaling.170 We also heard about the work done via the IWC Conservation Committee, which the UK chairs, to further emphasise the nation’s opposition to hunting.171 Witnesses acknowledged and praised the UK’s leading stance on cetacean conservation and welfare issues internationally172 and stressed that there was no humane way to kill a whale at sea.173 A recent report from the Icelandic food and veterinary authority backs this up, concluding that larger whales can take up to two hours to die after being harpooned, raising questions as to whether hunting large whales can ever meet animal welfare objectives.174

54. Defra told us that “The UK has and will continue to raise our opposition to commercial whaling with whaling countries at every appropriate opportunity”.175 Similarly, then-Minister Victoria Prentis, when asked about the extent to which the UK was raising conservation and welfare issues such as hunting in fisheries negotiations with relevant countries, told our Committee in February 2022 that “This is something we raise regularly”,176 including with Norway177 - a country which took 577 Minke whales for purposes other than ASW in 2021 according to the IUCN.178 However, the agreed record of the annual negotiations between the UK and Norway179 which gave rise to the bilateral fisheries agreement for 2023180 - announced in November 2022 - contains no references to marine mammals, hunting or whaling.

55. The 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), also known as COP15, which took place in December 2022 in Montréal, was a crucial moment for global biodiversity. We wrote an interim letter to Lord Benyon in November 2022181 to highlight what witnesses to this inquiry had told us about the importance of securing an ambitious deal at COP15, and urged the Government to do everything in its power to ensure the ‘30by30’ target of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 was part of the final agreement. We were therefore delighted when it was confirmed this would be the case.182 Similarly, we heard about the importance of agreeing a High Seas Treaty to extend habitat protections for marine mammals to the 61% of the ocean which lies beyond national jurisdictions183 - something seen as integral to the effective delivery of 30by30184 - and asked the Government to push for urgent talks to secure this following several rounds of failures.185 We were therefore also extremely pleased when it was announced in March 2023 that the High Seas Treaty had finally been agreed after a decade of negotiations.186

56. Whilst these agreements are steps in the right direction, the focus now turns to implementation and enforcement. In relation to protected areas, Chris Butler Stroud told us that the UK did not currently have enough management conservation plans in place to confidently claim it was adequately protecting more than around 8% of its own designated areas, and intimated that drastic improvements were needed if the UK was to lead by example on the international stage.187 Lord Benyon disputed this figure and reiterated that the Government was committed to “really meaningful protection” as opposed to “lines on a map”.188 He told us that “proper management plans” would be in place for protected areas “by 2024”.189

57. We heard a number of examples of the UK being cited as a leader internationally when it comes to marine mammal welfare and conservation. Given that this is an issue which transcends national borders, it is vital that the UK seeks to maximise its soft power in this arena. A key part of this is leading by example. We recommend that the Government accelerates action in relation to protected areas in UK waters, such that all such designated areas, including HPMAs, have proper management plans in place by the end of 2023. We also urge the Government to raise issues of marine mammal welfare with those countries who still engage in hunting, such as Iceland, Norway, Japan and the Faroe Islands, whenever bilateral and/or multilateral talks are taking place, including trade and fisheries negotiations.

Trade

58. The final report of the UK Trade and Agriculture Commission from March 2021 recommended that “the UK should draw on its strengths in animal welfare to show world leadership in embedding it into trade policy”.190 In a similar vein, the independent review of net zero conducted by Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP, which reported in January 2023, calls on the Government to establish baseline environmental and climate protections in free trade agreements by 2024.191 A number of contributors to our inquiry, including Blue Seas Protection,192 Wildlife and Countryside Link193 and the SMRU,194 also suggested the UK should use diplomatic and trade levers to put pressure on countries engaging in dubious animal welfare practices - for example, suspending the UK trade agreement with the Faroe Islands until whale and dolphin hunts there end.

59. However, campaigners have raised concerns that the opposite may be happening; for example, according to the RSPCA, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) which the UK is scheduled to join in July 2023, contains no explicit references to animal welfare standards in its formal conditions, something they described as “another potential nail in the coffin for animal welfare standards back home”.195 Also, while the FTAs with Australia196 and New Zealand197 contain explicit references to promoting the long-term conservation of marine mammals, the agreements with Japan,198 and with Norway and Iceland199 - all countries with an established whaling culture - stop short of this, instead committing only to the “sustainable use” of marine ecosystems.

60. When questioned on this issue, Lord Goldsmith told us: “It would be dishonest to pretend there is full alignment at this point, but we want to move as much in that direction as we can, aligning our trade policy with our broader international aspirations. This is a work in progress”.200 He referred to discussions between the FCDO, Defra and the then Department for International Trade to achieve this, about which he told us more information would be made public “before long”.201 A particularly notable example of the use of trade policy to enhance animal welfare is that of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act,202 also referred to in Chapter 4. This was recently amended to include certain foreign import provisions stipulating that seafood cannot be imported into the USA without the source country providing evidence (via certification process) that the provisions of the Act were not violated.203 The SMRU told us this has incentivised countries to better monitor marine mammals and bycatch rates in their national waters to avoid being prevented from exporting fish to the USA.204

61. We strongly support greater integration of environmental considerations including animal welfare in free trade agreements and feel much more can be done in this regard than at present. We are pleased to hear that there are ongoing discussions between the FCDO, Defra and the now Department for Business and Trade on how this might be achieved. We request that further details be provided to this Committee on these discussions in its response to this report. We also recommend that the UK should not agree any new trade deal that does not include a specific commitment to marine mammal conservation.

Conclusions and recommendations

Threats to Marine Mammals

1. Species-level assessments can sometimes mask profound issues with specific populations or communities of marine mammals; for example, it is thought that the last remaining coastal community of killer whales in the UK will disappear within our lifetimes. It is also the case that new cetacean species and populations are being discovered which are then very quickly found to be threatened. For these reasons, taking a precautionary approach to policymaking is particularly important for marine mammal conservation. We also condemn the abuse of IWC guidelines whereby certain countries carry out de facto commercial operations under the guise of scientific research. While we acknowledge that the legal duty to have due regard in policymaking to the Environmental Principles Policy Statement, including the precautionary principle, does not come into force until 1 November 2023, Defra should prioritise marine mammal protection in the application of this principle when formulating relevant policy in advance of that date. Defra should also consider further research into disease in marine mammals. (Paragraph 18)

Monitoring

2. Monitoring of marine mammals is difficult and costly. However, without sufficient monitoring data it is not possible to tailor a properly informed policy response to the challenges these animals face. It is therefore vital not only that support for monitoring programmes is increased but also that all opportunities are taken to make monitoring more efficient. We heard that increased use of technology and citizen science are two key ways in which to seek to achieve this. (Paragraph 30)

3. We believe investment in new technological solutions is the most effective way of upscaling marine mammal monitoring and filling the data gaps which currently hamper policy responses in this area. Among the most promising technologies are passive acoustic monitoring and the use of low-altitude satellites, while AI could also play a role. When asked about its commitment to technological solutions to marine mammal monitoring, the Government cited the £1.5m innovation competition with industry aimed at improving observation of biodiversity, under the Marine Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment (NCEA). However, the vast majority of the projects awarded funding under the first round of this initiative have little or no focus on marine mammals specifically, meaning this approach is completely inadequate in this context. We recommend that a new initiative should be launched specifically to encourage the development of new technological solutions to marine mammal monitoring, with ring-fenced funding that at least matches the existing £1.5m Marine NCEA innovation competition. (Paragraph 31)

UK Policy and Legislative Framework

4. The current UK legal framework around the protection of marine mammals is incoherent and not sufficient to effectively preserve these precious species. UK measures are in stark contrast to best practice exemplified internationally by the 1972 US Marine Mammal Protection Act, and, as ministers conceded to us in evidence, there are concerning loopholes that harm marine species. We strongly endorse the JNCC’s recommendation that seals be added to the list of species in Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act to protect them from reckless disturbance, and wish to see this implemented as soon as practicable. We also recommend that Defra should work with stakeholders and their legal advisers to explore ways to close the loophole which currently allows the transit of cetacean products through UK ports. We call for an assessment by the Department of options and their feasibility, in a supplementary response to this Report, by December 2023. (Paragraph 35)

5. We further recommend that the Government should bring in bespoke primary legislation on marine mammal protection over the course of the next Parliament. (Paragraph 36)

6. We are disappointed that, two years on from the consultation, there is still no final version of the Dolphin and Porpoise Conservation Strategy. We recommend that Defra works closely with the Scottish Government to ensure that SMART targets be included in the final strategy for each species covered, on which the Administrations should work together (as opposed to each having their own targets and action plans). Defra should also work with the Scottish Government to expand the strategy to cover all 12 species cited as “regularly seen” in UK waters. The final strategy, including all these elements, should be published no later than January 2024. (Paragraph 40)

7. We believe HPMAs are an important tool in marine mammal conservation which can play a key role in ensuring sustainable marine ecosystems. We support the rollout of the three HMPAs due to be formally designated by July 2023 and wish to see others follow. It is vitally important that their introduction is subject to comprehensive and ongoing engagement with the fishing industry, especially given increasing spatial pressures. We call on the Government to publish an ambitious timetable for the designation of HPMAs and to outline their monitoring and enforcement strategy by the end of 2023. (Paragraph 43)

Bycatch monitoring

8. Current levels of bycatch monitoring are insufficient to gain an accurate picture of the numbers of marine mammals killed or injured in this way, despite the requirement for vessels to report marine mammal bycatch. While we heard suggestions that mandatory remote electronic monitoring (REM) should be introduced, we are mindful of the significant burden such a requirement would place on the fishing industry, especially smaller vessels. We therefore recommend that the Government introduces mandatory bycatch monitoring, but that this is phased over several years, with smaller vessels being given extra time and, where necessary, financial support to meet their obligations. We would like to see an action plan to achieve this, with targets and milestones, by December 2023. (Paragraph 47)

9. Accidental bycatch in fishing gear is the biggest single threat to marine mammals and has been described as “one of the grossest abuses of wild animal sensibility in the modern world”. While the Bycatch Mitigation Initiative and Clean Catch programmes have made some progress on this issue, efforts to tackle bycatch need to be stepped up. This must be done in close consultation with scientists, NGOs and the fishing industry, who must be supported to take part in appropriate trials, including via financial incentives where necessary. We recommend that Defra and the devolved administrations work together to produce a UK-wide action plan with SMART targets to significantly bring down bycatch numbers. These targets should be developed in consultation with scientists, NGOs and the fishing industry and include consideration of risk factors such as location, gear type and species. Action should begin in the high-risk fleets cited by our witnesses as soon as practicable, and at the very latest be in place by June 2024. (Paragraph 51)

The UK on the International Stage

10. We heard a number of examples of the UK being cited as a leader internationally when it comes to marine mammal welfare and conservation. Given that this is an issue which transcends national borders, it is vital that the UK seeks to maximise its soft power in this arena. A key part of this is leading by example. We recommend that the Government accelerates action in relation to protected areas in UK waters, such that all such designated areas, including HPMAs, have proper management plans in place by the end of 2023. We also urge the Government to raise issues of marine mammal welfare with those countries who still engage in hunting, such as Iceland, Norway, Japan and the Faroe Islands, whenever bilateral and/or multilateral talks are taking place, including trade and fisheries negotiations. (Paragraph 57)

11. We strongly support greater integration of environmental considerations including animal welfare in free trade agreements and feel much more can be done in this regard than at present. We are pleased to hear that there are ongoing discussions between the FCDO, Defra and the now Department for Business and Trade on how this might be achieved. We request that further details be provided to this Committee on these discussions in its response to this report. We also recommend that the UK should not agree any new trade deal that does not include a specific commitment to marine mammal conservation. (Paragraph 61)

Formal minutes

Tuesday 20 June 2023

Members present

Sir Robert Goodwill, in the Chair

Ian Byrne

Barry Gardiner

Dr Neil Hudson

Cat Smith

Derek Thomas

Draft Report (Protecting Marine Mammals in the UK and Abroad) proposed by the Chair, brought up and read.

Ordered, That the Chair’s draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

Paragraphs 1 to 61 read and agreed to.

Summary agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report be the Sixth Report of the Committee to the House.

Ordered, That the Chair make the Report to the House.

Ordered, That embargoed copies of the Report be made available (Standing Order No. 134).

Adjournment

Adjourned till Tuesday 27 June 2023 at 2.00 p.m.


Witnesses

The following witnesses gave evidence. Transcripts can be viewed on the inquiry publications page of the Committee’s website.

Tuesday 11 October 2022

Professor David Lusseau, Professor of Marine Sustainability, National Institute of Aquatic Resources, Technical University of Denmark; Dr Carol Sparling, Director, Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU); Rob Deaville, Project Manager, UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP)Q1–40

Chris Butler Stroud, Chief Executive, Whale and Dolphin Conservation; Lucy Babey, Deputy Director and Head of Science & Conservation, ORCA, cetacean conservation charity; Mark Simmonds OBE, Director of Science, Ocean CareQ41–86

Tuesday 10 January 2023

The Rt Hon. the Lord Benyon, Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; The Right Hon. the Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, Minister for Overseas Territories, Commonwealth, Energy, Climate and Environment, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office; James Smith, Deputy Director, International Marine Environment, Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Lowri Griffiths, Acting Deputy Director Ocean Policy, FCDOQ87–142


Published written evidence

The following written evidence was received and can be viewed on the inquiry publications page of the Committee’s website.

MM numbers are generated by the evidence processing system and so may not be complete.

1 Anonymised (MM0002)

2 Blue Seas Protection - Marine Conservation Registered Charity 1189529 (MM0018)

3 Blue Green Future LLC (MM0021)

4 Born Free Foundation (MM0012)

5 Deaville, Rob (MM0025)

6 Defra (MM0015)

7 Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (MM0030)

8 Energeo Alliance (MM0022)

9 Hague, Emily (PhD Researcher, Heriot-Watt University) (MM0005)

10 Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (MM0008)

11 IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group (MM0019)

12 Lasseau, Professor David (MM0024)

13 Lasseau, Professor David (MM0026)

14 Marine Mammal Observer Association (MMOA) (MM0007)

15 National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) (MM0004)

16 OBE, Mark Simmonds (MM0027)

17 Orkney Marine Mammal Research Initiative (MM0023)

18 RSPB (MM0010)

19 Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (MM0013)

20 Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) (MM0028)

21 Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St Andrews (MM0020)

22 Seal Alliance; and Seal Research Trust (MM0003)

23 Simmonds, Mr Mark Peter (Director of Science, OceanCare) (MM0016)

24 Whale and Dolphin Conservation (MM0029)

25 Whale and Dolphin Conservation (MM0017)

26 Wildlife and Countryside Link (MM0031)

27 Wildlife and Countryside Link (MM0014)

28 World Cetacean Alliance (MM0006)


List of Reports from the Committee during the current Parliament

All publications from the Committee are available on the publications page of the Committee’s website.

Session 2022–23

Number

Title

Reference

1st

Australia FTA: Food and Agriculture

HC 23

2nd

Pre-appointment hearing for the Chair-designate of the Environment Agency

HC 546

3rd

The price of plastic: ending the toll of plastic waste

HC 22

4th

Rural mental health

HC 248

5th

Species Reintroduction

HC 849

1st Special

Tree Planting: Government Response to the Committee’s Third Report of Session 2021–22

HC 323

2nd Special

Labour shortages in the food and farming sector: Government Response to the Committee’s Fourth Report of Session 2021–22

HC 412

3rd Special

Australia FTA: Food and Agriculture: Government Response to the Committee’s First Report

HC 700

4th Special

The price of plastic: ending the toll of plastic waste: Government Response to the Committee’s Third Report

HC 1044

Session 2021–22

Number

Title

Reference

1st

Moving animals across borders

HC 79

2nd

Environmental Land Management and the agricultural transition

HC 78

3rd

Tree planting

HC 356

4th

Labour shortages in the food and farming sector

HC 713

5th

Pre-appointment Hearing: Chair of Ofwat

HC 1253

Session 2019–21

Number

Title

Reference

1st

COVID-19 and food supply

HC 263

2nd

Pre-appointment hearing for the Chair-Designate of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP)

HC 1042

3rd

The UK’s new immigration policy and the food supply chain

HC 231

4th

Flooding

HC 170

5th

Air Quality and coronavirus: a glimpse of a different future or business as usual

HC 468

6th

Public Sector Procurement of Food

HC 469

7th

Covid-19 and the issues of security in food supply

HC 1156

8th

Seafood and meat exports to the EU

HC 1189


Footnotes

1 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Press release, May 2019

2 Environmental Audit Committee, First Report of Session 2021–22, Biodiversity in the UK: Bloom or Bust?, HC 136, June 2021, p5

3 The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review: Headline Messages, February 2021, p1

4 Yuangeng Hang et al, The stability and collapse of marine ecosystems during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, Current Biology Volume 33 Issue 6, 27 March 2023, Introduction

5 World Health Organization, Fact Sheet: Biodiversity and Health, 3 June 2015

6 Joe Roman, James J. McCarthy, The Whale Pump: Marine Mammals Enhance Primary Productivity in a Costal Basin, Public Library of Science One, 11 October 2010, Introduction

7 U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Resource Collections: Marine mammals, 1 February 2019

8 The Times, Whales can combat climate change by capturing carbon, 19 December 2022

9 Scientific American, Can Putting a Price on a Whale Save the Environment?, 24 April 2023. The term “great whale” covers the 13 largest species

10 Q2

11 Hazen et al, Marine top predators as climate and ecosystem sentinels, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 4 November 2019, Abstract

12 Moore, Marine mammals as ecosystem sentinels, Journal of Mammalogy, 5 June 2008, Abstract

13 Inside Science, Research Shows Range of Contaminants in the Blubber of Whales and Dolphins, 16 September 2020

14 Sea Mammal Research Unit, Marine mammals as indicators of change, 2016

15 Hazen et al, Marine top predators as climate and ecosystem sentinels, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 4 November 2019; Q3

16 OceanCare, Under Pressure: The need to protect whales and dolphins in European waters, April 2021, p11–12

17 OceanCare, Under Pressure: The need to protect whales and dolphins in European waters, April 2021, p12

18 The Real and Imminent Extinction Risk to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises: An Open Letter From [>360] Cetacean Scientists, accessed 6 June 2023

19 The Society for Marine Mammalogy, List of Marine Mammal Species, accessed 7 June 2023

20 IUCN website homepage, accessed 7 June 2023

21 International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN], IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, Version 3.1 Second Edition, 2012, accessed 6 June 2023

22 IUCN, Red List of Threatened Species, Version 2022–2, accessed 6 June 2023; IUCN Species Survival Commission Cetacean Specialist Group, Status of the World’s Cetaceans, accessed 6 June 2023

23 Defra (MM015), p1

24 Defra (MM015), p1

25 The Wildlife Trusts, Grey Seals, accessed 6 June 2023

26 Q7

27 Q12

28 Q9

29 IUCN Species Survival Commission Cetacean Specialist Group (MM019), p4

30 IUCN Species Survival Commission Cetacean Specialist Group (MM019), p4

31 Wildlife and Countryside Link (MM014), p2

32 Q38

33 Professor David Lusseau [MM0024] p1; p3; p4

34 Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Even locals outraged as 1400 dolphins die in Faroese hunt, 15 September 2021

35 HC Deb, 11 July 2022, Volume 718 [Westminster Hall]

36 Mark Simmonds (MM0016), p3, lines 93–97

37 Q53

38 Schoeman et al, A Global Review of Vessel Collisions With Marine Animals, Frontiers in Marine Science, 19 May 2020

39 Mark Simmonds (MM0016), p4

40 Jepson et al, PCB pollution continues to impact populations of orcas and other dolphins in European waters, Nature, 14 January 2016

41 Fair and Houde, Marine Mammal Ecotoxicology Chapter 5 - Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances in Marine Mammals, Science Direct, 2018

42 WWF Australia, Plastic in our oceans is killing marine mammals, 1 July 2021

43 Q7

44 Natural History Museum, Bird flu kills thousands of South American sea lions as outbreak continues, 9 March 2023

45 Q15

46 Q32 [Professor Lusseau]

47 Q16

48 World Cetacean Alliance (MM0006), p1; Marine Mammal Observer Association (MM0007), p2; Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (MM0008), p1

49 IUCN Species Survival Commission Cetacean Specialist Group (MM0019), p2

50 Q21 [Professor Lusseau]

51 Mark Simmonds (MM0016), p1, lines 31–33

52 i News, How many killer whales are left in the world? How long orcas live and why they are known as data deficient, 9 February 2023

53 Q21

54 Whale and Dolphin Conservation (MM0017), p5

55 Q51

56 Q9

57 Defra, Environmental Principles Policy Statement, updated 31 January 2023, accessed 7 June 2023

58 Defra, Environmental Principles Policy Statement landing page, updated 31 January 2023, accessed 7 June 2023

59 Defra, Environmental Principles Policy Statement landing page, updated 31 January 2023, accessed 7 June 2023

60 Defra, Environmental Principles Policy Statement, updated 31 January 2023, accessed 7 June 2023

61 Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Article 17 Habitats Directive Report 2019: Species Conservation Status Assessments 2019, accessed 7 June 2023

62 Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Introduction to UK Marine Strategy, accessed 7 June 2023

63 Defra, Marine Strategy Part One: UK updated assessment and Good Environmental Status, October 2019, p13–14

64 Cefas, Abundance and distribution of cetaceans other than coastal bottlenose dolphins, 2018

65 Q88

66 Sea Mammal Research Unit (MM0020), p11

67 Whale and Dolphin Conservation (MM0017), p1

68 IUCN Species Survival Commission Cetacean Specialist Group (MM0019), p7

69 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p2–3

70 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p3

71 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p3

72 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p3

73 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p3

74 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p3

75 NERC is one of seven research councils brought together under UK Research and Innovation

76 Sea Mammal Research Unit (MM0028), p1

77 Q22

78 Q17

79 Marine Conservation Society, What is Remote Electronic Monitoring?, accessed 7 June 2023

80 WWF, Acoustic Monitoring For Conservation and Ecological Research, accessed 7 June 2023

81 Q18

82 The Independent, Scientists are eavesdropping on whales -- and it could save their lives, 6 July 2022

83 Q18

84 Q20

85 Q19 [Dr Sparling]

86 Q18

87 Q19 [Dr Sparling]

88 Cefas, Introducing the Marine Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment Programme, 13 April 2022

89 Q141

90 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p4

91 UKRI, Winners announced to improve observation capabilities in UK waters, 24 May 2023

92 UKRI, Winners announced to improve observation capabilities in UK waters, 24 May 2023

93 Q29

94 Orca.org.uk

95 Q29 [Rob Deaville]

96 Marine Mammal Observer Association (MM0007), p3

97 Q98

98 Defra, UK Marine Strategy Part Two: UK updated monitoring programmes, October 2022, p14

99 Marine Environmental Data & Information Network, A data strategy for the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS) community, April 2022, p2

100 JNCC, Joint Cetacean Data Programme, 14 April 2022

101 JNCC, The evolution of the JCDP, 14 April 2022

102 ICES, Working Group on the Joint Cetacean Data Programme, accessed 7 June 2023

103 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p5

104 Defra (MM0015) p6

105 Q44

106 Simmonds et al (MM0027), p3–4

107 Simmonds et al (MM0027), p4

108 Q46; Q82 [Lucy Babey]

109 Q44; Q46

110 Q43; Q44

111 Q100

112 Q100

113 Q102

114 Q105

115 Q105

116 Whale and Dolphin Conservation (MM0029), p2–5

117 Scottish Government, UK dolphin and porpoise conservation strategy: high level strategy, 22 March 2021

118 Q49; Simmonds et al (MM0027), p4

119 SMART = Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound

120 Q50

121 Defra (MM0015) p1

122 Q50

123 Q92

124 Q98

125 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p1

126 Defra, Independent report: Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) review 2019, 8 June 2019

127 Office for Environmental Protection, OEP response to consultation on HPMAs, 13 October 2022

128 Defra, Government response to the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HMPAs) review, 8 June 2021

129 Defra, Policy paper: Highly Protected Marine Areas (HMPAs), accessed 8 June 2023

130 Scottish Government, Scottish Highly Protected Marine Areas, accessed 8 June 2023

131 Defra, Highly Protected Marine Areas pilot sites consultation outcome: Summary of responses, 28 February 2023

132 Q56

133 Wildlife and Countryside Link, The route to success for new Highly Protected Marine Areas, accessed 8 June 2023

134 Benyon Review Into Highly Protected Marine Areas: final report, 8 June 2019, p9

135 Q108

136 Q110

137 Q139

138 Wildlife and Countryside Link (MM0014), p1; Whale and Dolphin Conservation (MM0017), p2; IUCN Species Survival Commission Cetacean Specialist Group (MM0019), p3; Sea Mammal Research Unit (MM0020), p7

139 Q31

140 Leaper, An Evaluation of Cetacean Bycatch in UK Fisheries: Problems and Solutions, February 2021, p2

141 Read et al, Bycatch of Marine Mammals in U.S. and Global Fisheries, JSTOR, February 2006; IUCN Species Survival Commission Cetacean Specialist Group (MM0019), p3

142 Leaper, An Evaluation of Cetacean Bycatch in UK Fisheries: Problems and Solutions, February 2021, p2

143 Defra, Policy paper: Marine wildlife bycatch mitigation initiative, 10 August 2022

144 Marine Management Organisation, Guidance: Marine Mammal Bycatch Reporting Requirements, 5 November 2021

145 Wildlife and Countryside Link (MM0031), p1;

146 RSPB (MM0010), p2; Wildlife and Countryside Link (MM0014), p3; Q86 [Lucy Babey]

147 Q115

148 Q115

149 Q116

150 Q117

151 Q118

152 Defra, Policy paper: Marine wildlife bycatch mitigation initiative, 10 August 2022

153 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p4

154 Q35; Q76; Q78

155 Q43; Q45; Q77

156 Q67

157 Wildlife and Countryside Link (MM0014), p5

158 Defra and FCDO (MM0030), p2

159 National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (MM0004), p3

160 Q119

161 Simmonds et al (MM0027), p1; Q77

162 IWC, Commercial Whaling, accessed 9 June 2023

163 IWC, Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling, accessed 9 June 2023

164 Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Whaling in Norway, accessed 9 June 2023

165 Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Whaling in Iceland, accessed 9 June 2023

166 Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Whaling in Japan, accessed 9 June 2023

167 CITES, What is CITES?, accessed 9 June 2023

168 CMS, About CMS, accessed 9 June 2023

169 ASCOBANS, About ASCOBANS, accessed 9 June 2023

170 Defra (MM0015), p3

171 Q126 [James Smith]; Q128 [James Smith]

172 Q60 [Mark Simmonds]; Q79

173 Q40 [Rob Deaville]; Q80

174 The Guardian, Whales take up to two hours to die after being harpooned, Icelandic report finds, 8 May 2023

175 Defra (MM0015), p7

176 Oral evidence taken on 2 February 2022, HC (2022–23) 1016, Q45

177 Oral evidence taken on 2 February 2022, HC (2022–23) 1016, Q47

178 Professor David Lusseau [MM0024], p3

179 UK Government, Agreed record of fisheries consultations between the European Union, Norway and the United Kingdom for 2023, 9 December 2022

180 Defra, Fisheries: bilateral agreement with Norway for 2023, 25 November 2022

181 EFRA Committee, Letter from the Chair to Defra Minister, Lord Benyon, regarding Marine Mammals and COP15, 16 November 2022

182 Convention on Biological Diversity, Press release: COP15: Nations Adopt Four Goals, 23 Targets for 2030 in Landmark UN Biodiversity Agreement, 19 December 2022

183 Whale and Dolphin Conservation [MM0017], p4; Q56

184 WWF, WWF: High Seas Treaty critical to achieving 30% global ocean protection goal, 14 February 2023

185 EFRA Committee, Letter from the Chair to Defra Minister, Lord Benyon, regarding Marine Mammals and COP15, 16 November 2022, p2

186 The Guardian, High seas treaty: historic deal to protect international waters finally reached at UN, 5 March 2023

187 Q56

188 Q138

189 Q139

190 UK Government, UK Trade and Agriculture Commission Final Report, March 2021, p16, Recommendation 4

191 UK Government, Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero, 13 January 2023, p260

192 Blue Seas Protection (MM0018), p2

193 Wildlife and Countryside Link (MM0014), p9

194 Sea Mammal Research Unit (MM0020), p11, para. 40

195 RSPCA, New Trans-Pacific trade deal a ‘nail in the coffin’ for animal welfare, fears RSPCA, 3 April 2023

196 UK Government, UK-Australia FTA Chapter 22: Environment, 16 December 2021, p11, para. 4

197 UK Government, UK-New Zealand FTA Chapter 22: Environment, 28 February 2022, p10, para. 5

198 UK Government, UK/Japan: Agreement for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership - Volume 1, 23 October 2020, p331, Article 16.8, para. 1

199 UK Government, Free Trade Agreement between Iceland, the Principality of Liechtenstein and the Kingdom of Norway and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - Volume 1, p239, Article 13.26, para. 2, 16 July 2021

200 Q131

201 Q131

202 U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, Laws & Policies: Marine Mammal Protection Act, accessed 9 June 2023

203 U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, International Marine Mammal Bycatch Criteria for U.S. Imports, accessed 9 June 2023

204 Sea Mammal Research Unit (MM0020), p9