Numerous species of small cetaceans live in the
Baltic, Irish and North Seas and the North East Atlantic,
including dolphins, whales and harbour porpoises.
The harbour porpoise is the most common small cetacean
species in the North Sea and the only cetacean species
native to the Baltic Sea and therefore is the flagship
species of the ''Agreement''.
As migratory species, cetaceans face of a number
of threats caused by human activities. These include
habitat loss, marine pollution, acoustic disturbances
from various sources and, most importantly, incidental
catch by entanglement in fishing gear, so-called bycatch.
Every year, thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises
fall victim to bycatch, drowning because they can
no longer swim up to the surface for a breath of air.
As with other migratory species, effective conservation
can only be realised by means of international cooperation.
To achieve and maintain a favourable conservation
status for the species it covers, ASCOBANS promotes
close cooperation amongst Parties, Range States and
relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations
ASCOBANS is a regional agreement on the protection
of small cetaceans that was concluded as the “Agreement
on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic
and North Seas” under the auspices of the UNEP
Convention on Migratory Species, or Bonn Convention,
in September 1991 and came into force in March 1994.
ASCOBANS covers all species of toothed whales (Odontoceti)
in the Agreement Area, with the exception of the sperm
whale (Physeter macrocephalus).
The Agreement area covers the marine environment
around the shores of 17 Range States (an up to date
list of the Agreement’s Parties is found on
the ASCOBANS website). The Fourth Meeting of the Parties,
held in Esbjerg, Denmark, in August 2003, agreed to
extend the original Agreement area (Baltic and North
Seas) further west to cover parts of the North Atlantic
and to incorporate waters adjacent to Ireland, Portugal
and Spain. This extension also changed the name to
“Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans
of the Baltic, North East Atlantic, Irish and North
Seas”. The amendment has entered into force
on 3 February 2008 and thereby closed the gap for
some species of small cetaceans between the areas
covered by ASCOBANS and its sister agreement, the
Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the
Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic
The ASCOBANS Agreement includes a concise Conservation
and Management Plan that describes the conservation,
research and management measures that should be implemented
by the Parties. This plan foresees measures towards
the mitigation of marine pollution and the reduction
of bycatch, surveys and research about species ecology
and population status and the establishment of an
international database. Additionally the plan further
calls for Parties to adopt national laws to prohibit
the intentional taking and killing of small cetaceans
where such regulations are not already in force. General
guidelines on public awareness and participation are
also included in the plan. Please see the section
“Action Plans” for more information.
The Jastarnia Plan – The ASCOBANS Recovery
Plan for the Baltic Harbour Porpoises
Under the aegis of the ASCOBANS Secretariat, a special
working group composed of representatives of international
conventions, government ministries, fishermen and
environmental groups has developed a recovery plan
for the Baltic Harbour porpoise (Jastarnia Plan),
which recommends a programme for bycatch reduction,
research and monitoring, marine protected area establishment
and an increase of public awareness.
The overall aim is to restore the Baltic population
of Harbour porpoises - an estimated 600 individuals
are left - to at least 80% of the Baltic’s carrying-capacity.
A change in fishing methods and a reduction of fishing
effort could significantly contribute to a lower bycatch