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EU plan to protect marine species threatens seafood exports to the US

BRUSSELS: The European Commission’s EU Action Plan released this week falls short of protecting and restoring marine species and jeopardises continued access for EU fish products to the lucrative US seafood market, according to a coalition of animal welfare and conservation groups.

The EU Action Plan outlines goals for improving EU fisheries by, among other things, protecting whales, dolphins and other threatened wildlife from fishing gear entanglement or bycatch (the unintentional netting during fishing of non-targeted species).

But the plan’s recommended actions to reduce bycatch would not occur quickly enough to meet new seafood import requirements under the US Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) which comes into effect this November.

The US is the second largest importer of European seafood, behind the UK, accounting for more than nine per cent of the EU’s seafood exports. The US MMPA requires that nations exporting seafood meet strict US fishing standards for marine mammal protection or face an import ban on their products.

“Dolphin and porpoise bycatch in fishing gear is causing population-level impacts in every ocean basin in European waters,” said Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) Ocean Campaigner Sarah Dolman. “Ambitious and timely concrete actions to ensure adherence with both EU and US legislation are lacking in the Commission’s Action Plan.

“EU member states need to urgently step-up efforts to prevent cetacean bycatch, putting strong policies and effective measures in place. Otherwise, they risk not being compliant with US standards and thus threaten EU member state exports to the US.”

High numbers of harbour porpoises and dolphins die from entanglement in European waters every year, yet EU countries have inadequate bycatch monitoring, both in EU waters and where fishing fleets operate outside of them. Improved monitoring, prevention and enforcement are necessary for EU members to calculate bycatch rates for marine mammals to determine whether bycatch requirements meet US standards.

“Bycatch is the leading cause of death for marine mammals globally, causing enormous suffering of hundreds of thousands of animals annually,” said Kate O’Connell, Marine Wildlife Consultant for the Animal Welfare Institute. “It is alarming that the EU has failed to implement a plan that effectively ensures the protection and recovery of its marine mammal populations.”

The EU Action Plan asks members to submit updated national Data Collection Framework plans by the end of 2024, one year after the US deadline of November 2023 for nations to comply with the MMPA. Members then have until 2030 to implement a previous EU decision requiring that no marine mammal populations are impacted by bycatch. In a recent report, conservationists concluded that some of France’s fisheries, for instance, are unlikely to meet US standards.

“This plan makes me worried for whales and dolphins in European waters and EU fishers,” said Sarah Uhlemann, International Program Director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Intelligent marine mammals will continue to die entangled in EU nets and EU fishers may lose access to US markets. It’s a lose-lose situation.”

Without adequate monitoring of marine mammals, such as the common dolphins found in the Bay of Biscay along the coasts of western France and northern Spain, EU countries will not be able to prove that their protective measures are comparable to those in the US, which could result in a ban on some EU nations’ seafood.



  • Paul Newman, EIA Senior Press & Communications Officer, via press[at]
  • Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute, via margie[at]
  • Kari Birdseye, Natural Resources Defense Council, via kbirdseye[at]
  • Sarah Uhlemann, Center for Biological Diversity, via suhlemann[at]



  1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) investigates and campaigns against environmental crime and abuses. Our undercover investigations expose transnational wildlife crime, with a focus on elephants, pangolins and tigers, and forest crimes such as illegal logging and deforestation for cash crops such as palm oil; we work to safeguard global marine ecosystems by tackling plastic pollution, exposing illegal fishing and seeking an end to all whaling; and we address the threat of global warming by campaigning to curtail powerful refrigerant greenhouse gases and exposing related criminal trade.
  2. The Animal Welfare Institute is a non-profit charitable organisation founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere – in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home and in the wild.
  3. NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international non-profit environmental organisation with more than three million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT and Beijing.
  4. The Center for Biological Diversity is a national non-profit conservation organisation with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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