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The IWC's Scientific Committee has described bycatch as the most serious, direct threat to cetaceans globally.  It's estimated that over 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die each year as a result of encounters with fishing gear.  Bycatch includes all entanglements in fishing gear.  It effects large and small cetaceans and occurs as a result of all kinds of fishing operations, from small scale local fisheries to large scale industrial operations.

The conservation significance of bycatch was recognised by the IWC some years ago.  The Commission has been working to understand the extent and precise nature of the threat, and has adopted a number of Resolutions seeking concerted global efforts and requesting action by member Governments. 

Recognising its existing and extensive expertise in cetaceans, fisheries and conservation science, the IWC endorsed a proposal for a new Bycatch Initiative in 2016.  In collaboration with other organisations, this aims to develop, assess and promote bycatch prevention and mitigation measures world-wide.

Four inter-related areas of work have been identified:

  • investigation of mitigation methods
  • transfer of expertise, technology and management measures
  • improved assessment of bycatch
  • engagement with other relevant organisations

The Bycatch Initiative will adopt elements of the IWC's successful entanglement response model.  It will establish a coordinator and an Expert Panel so that countries with knowledge and experience of bycatch mitigation measures can share information, and agree the most effective practices.  The Expert Panel will be drawn from member Governments, science and academia, the fisheries community and non-governmental organisations.

To read the proposal for an IWC Bycatch Initiative click here.

To read more about entanglement and the IWC's Entanglement Response Network, click here.