EUR-Lex Access to European Union law

Back to EUR-Lex homepage

This document is an excerpt from the EUR-Lex website

Protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises against incidental catch

This summary has been archived and will not be updated. See 'Conservation of fisheries resources and protection of marine ecosystems' for an updated information about the subject.

Protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises against incidental catch



Regulation (EC) No 812/2004 — measures concerning incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries


It introduces measures to reduce incidental catches (known as by-catches) by fishing vessels of whales, dolphins and porpoises (a group of marine mammals known as cetaceans).


The regulation introduces:

  • technical measures concerning gill nets (a fishing net that is hung vertically so that fish get trapped in it by their gills) and trawls (a fishing net) in specified areas (listed in the regulation’s Annexes I and III);
  • a monitoring scheme on board fishing vessels to obtain information on by-catches of cetaceans in ‘at risk’ fisheries* (see Annex III).

Acoustic deterrent devices

  • Acoustic deterrent devices of various types have been developed. These devices (often known as ‘pingers’) emit signals designed to keep cetaceans away from fishing gear.
  • All fishing vessels of 12 metres or longer fishing in the specified zones for the given fishing period must use the devices.
  • Masters of fishing vessels must ensure that the devices are fully operational when setting the gear.
  • European Union (EU) countries must monitor and evaluate the effects of the use of the devices over time.
  • The devices’ technical specifications (e.g. signal characteristics) and conditions of use (i.e. the maximum spacing between devices on nets) are set out in Annex II of the regulation.
  • Exceptionally, EU countries may authorise the use for up to 2 years of devices which do not fulfil the specifications or conditions of use, provided that their use has been sufficiently documented.

Monitoring schemes for incidental catches

  • EU countries must design and implement monitoring schemes for incidental catches of cetaceans by fishing vessels flying their flag. The object of the exercise is to obtain representative data on the fisheries listed in annex III.
  • For vessels of under 15 metres in length, data are collected by means of studies or pilot projects.
  • For vessels that are 15 metres or longer, the monitoring is done by on-board observers.
  • In respect of the observers, the legislation lays down:
    • their qualifications (e.g. relevant experience in cetacean species and fishing practices;
    • their capacity to accomplish certain elementary scientific tasks, etc.);
    • their tasks (monitor incidental catches and collect the data necessary to extrapolate the by-catch observed to the whole fishery concerned);
    • the content of the report that observers must send about the data they have collected, their observations and findings.


  • Each year, EU countries must send a report to the European Commission. This report should:
    • contain estimates of the overall incidental catches of cetaceans in each of the fisheries concerned;
    • include an assessment of the conclusions of the observers’ reports and any other appropriate information, including any research done to reduce the incidental capture of cetaceans in fisheries.


It has applied since 1 July 2004.


Whales, dolphins and porpoises are all protected under the EU’s Habitats Directive which requires EU countries to undertake surveillance of the conservation status of these species. The EU has therefore taken specific measures to ensure that the impact of fishing activities is minimised.


‘at risk’ fisheries: in the context of this summary, fisheries where the cetacean population is under particular threat due to fishing activities.


Council Regulation (EC) No 812/2004 of 26 April 2004 laying down measures concerning incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries and amending Regulation (EC) No 88/98 (OJ L 150, 30.4.2004, pp. 12-31)

See corrigendum.

Successive amendments to Regulation (EC) No 812/2004 have been incorporated in to the original document. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.


Council Regulation (EC) No 199/2008 of 25 February 2008 concerning the establishment of a Community framework for the collection, management and use of data in the fisheries sector and support for scientific advice regarding the Common Fisheries Policy (OJ L 60, 5.3.2008, pp. 1-12)

See consolidated version

last update 04.10.2016