Declining populations of marine mammals have led to growing concern about their conservation. As a result, a series of specific conservation measures have been put in place (bans on hunting and trading, establishment of protected marine areas). Such rules, although restoring the populations of some species of marine mammals, have nevertheless failed to protect them from the most challenging threat to their survival: the bycatch of non-target species. Accordingly, this Article highlights gaps within fisheries law, clarifying the efficacy of existing norms on the protection of the most endangered marine species of marine mammals, with a particular focus on cetaceans, from over-exploitation.
To this aim, the Article explores the peculiar norms developed by treaties of global and regional scope and the European Union (EU) with reference to specific species, including whales, seals, small cetaceans—referred to as direct protection. The Article then proceeds to an analysis of fisheries law that addresses, in an incidental manner, marine mammal protection—referred to as indirect protection.
The Article is based on the assumption that measures simply banning hunting or fishing, as envisaged by wildlife law, must necessarily be complemented by fisheries law—that is, Inter-regime linkages. Paradoxically, indirect protection can have a major impact in terms of improvement of both fish welfare and conservation; the problem lies in the fact that current fisheries law fails to provide an adequate response to bycatch. This Article proposes methods to improve fisheries law and also discusses whether the emerging concept of fish welfare can be an asset if included in fisheries rules; the Article ultimately contends that welfare issues must necessarily be part of future legal developments.