Measures implemented to prevent bycatch of seals
In 2020, all our pelagic vessels were equipped with escape panels in our fishing nets in order to prevent bycatch of seals. We worked with net-makers to design a fishing net with an escape panel so that if a seal accidentally swims into the net, it can escape again. The panel was satisfactorily tested in 2020 in different seasons and fishing areas.
Recent research shows that seal, porpoise and dolphin numbers are increasing. In November 2020, Statistics Netherlands published a study showing that the porpoise population in the Dutch part of the North Sea increased seven-fold between 1991 and 2019. Seal populations also increased substantially. For example, the number of grey seals in the North Sea has more than tripled in the last 25 years. The increase is a recent development, as the number of seals, porpoises and dolphins in the North Sea and surrounding Western European waters was still in decline in the last decades of the last century.
A logical consequence of the increase in the number of animals in the sea is an increased likelihood of a dolphin or seal inadvertently ending up in a fishing vessel?s net. In recent years, the fishing industry has launched several trials to prevent this from happening. For example, in 2019 we were involved in a trial by the Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association (PFA) into the use of pingers to prevent dolphin bycatch. Pingers are devices that are attached to the fishing net and produce a sound that scares off dolphins. A new generation of pingers has been in use as a preventive measure since March 2020, not just on our vessels, but on all vessels owned by members of the PFA.
In addition, in 2020 we conducted research under the guidance of a scientist from the PFA into ways to prevent bycatch of seals and other marine mammals. Adding an escape panel to the fishing net promised a solution. This development draws on the experience we already built up with the use of escape panels in North-West African waters. We have further developed and tested these panels in conjunction with net-makers. We then held talks with the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality to ensure that it was possible to both test and commission the adapted nets within all existing fisheries regulations. We received approval from the Ministry and the escape panels have now been implemented in our fleet.