Guidelines for safe handling and release of small cetaceans from fishing gear

Guidelines for safe handling and release of small cetaceans from fishing gear

The Convention on Migratory Species has announced the publication of CMS Technical Series No. 43 Guidelines for the safe and humane handling and release of bycaught small cetaceans from fishing gear.  The Guidelines are available in English on the CMS website at  These guidelines were commissioned by WWF and developed in consultation with a wide range of experts affiliated with the IWC and CMS.  They are intended for use in fisheries around the world, and include practical instruction cards that can be printed and laminated, as well as text providing the scientific underpinning for the practices that are recommended.

In 2018 WWF Peru and WWF Pakistan identified a need for these guidelines following observations of unsafe and harmful handling in releases of small cetaceans in fisheries in their national waters. WWF engaged in discussions with IWC, FAO, IOTC, CMS, ASCOBANS and ACCOBAMS who all agreed that while detailed guides for sharks, turtles and seabirds had been produced by various organisations, only one set of illustrated cards was available for small cetaceans (produced by ACCOBAMS). It was decided that an expanded document providing the scientific justification and rationale for safe handling and release practices in a range of fisheries would be useful. The draft guidelines were completed in July 2019 and circulated to a range of experts on cetacean biology, bycatch, and strandings, More than 20 of those experts provided feedback used by Derek Hamer and Gianna Minton to edit and finalize the document.

To make the guidelines practical and accessible for fishing crews, the document has pages at the end, designed so that a common cover page with core principles applicable to practices in all types of fisheries and fishing gear can be combined with a fishery-specific flip page, with clear illustrations and step-by-step instructions relevant to that fishery. These can be printed and laminated for use on deck, or viewed in electronic format from a phone or tablet. The protocols cover hook-and-line, gillnet, purse seine, and trawl fishing at both artisanal and industrial scale.

Evidence of a Singular Cause of the Vaquita’s Steep Decline: Bycatch

A recently published paper provides etiological analyses of eight vaquita deaths in March and April 2016–2018. Nutritional state, lesions, biotoxins and levels of contaminants in fat were considered. Injuries to the seven vaquitas found dead (the eighth animal was the healthy adult female that died after being live-captured in November 2017) were consistent with entanglement in monofilament nets or ropes. The authors were able to exclude persistent organic pollutants and biotoxins as sources of mortality in this critically endangered species, and their findings reconfirm that incidental mortality in illegal fishing gear is the sole factor driving the vaquita ever-closer to extinction.

March 2020 – Another vaquita death

A video (see below) has come to light that was taken by a fisherman in the upper Gulf of California and which shows a dead vaquita entangled in a fishing net.  The video is determined to be authentic and was recorded in early March 2020.


Given that it was estimated that fewer than 19 vaquitas remained as of summer 2018 (Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 2019) this latest death, along with others documented in 2019, and in 2018 , is of utmost concern. For more information on the active efforts to remove fishing nets from the range of the vaquita see article here and for more information on conservation efforts see our vaquita page.