Fishers fuel discussions on cetacean bycatch

Day two at Mindfully Wired and I’m diving in at the deep end: straight into a workshop in the country’s bustling capital. The event: Hauling Up Solutions, set to tackle problems with cetacean bycatch in UK fisheries.

Participants from all corners of the country coalesced in ZSL London Zoo, the home of CSI of the Sea. Here, pathologist Rob Deaville investigates the causes of cetacean strandings - conducting swift and decisive post-mortems on marine mammals to work out what led to their demise. The most common human-induced cause: bycatch. Individuals are often injured following interactions with fishing gear and these can be fatal.

For fishers, such interactions are a big risk to business - and personal safety. For small vessels, an entangled animal can seriously affect its stability. What’s more, when working to release entangled mammals fishermen often have to tear up their gear, sacrificing costly nets in the process. Not to mention the distress it causes them - no one wants to catch one.

We had two days to create a strategy to improve how bycatch is monitored and make bycatch mitigation better. By no means a small task.

Seeing the size of the challenge ahead, Cefas, ZSL, Defra and MWC (hired for our expert comms support and facilitation design) brought together a diverse crowd to share their expertise across wide sectors of the industry.  Attendees from research, policy, fishing and the third sector worked as one to come up with better ways to reduce cetacean bycatch. For me, one of the most striking aspects of the workshop was collaborative discourse. Always positive, respectful and engaged - even between sectors where, historically, there’s been conflict.

The room was electric. Filled with the energy of eager minds working towards a common goal. Participants scrutinised what we already do to monitor and mitigate cetacean bycatch, building on the best of these approaches. The crowd also explored a plethora of new and innovative mitigation methods: from using sound and light to deter different species, to modifying fishing gear to reduce the incidence of whales, dolphins and porpoises being accidentally caught.

Fundamental to it all was the input from fishermen. Their contributions to the discussion kept ideas anchored in reality, giving insight into which approaches would be practical and which needed further thought. Open, animated, and a vital voice in the room, their passion and experience put momentum behind many of the workshop’s discussions. With their input at the core of more fisheries-focussed meetings, we can expect better solutions for society and the environment.

You can keep track of the project as it progresses here.