France under pressure to save dolphins from trawlers

France under pressure to save dolphins from trawlers

Scientists believe that far more dolphins die at sea than on land

Scientists believe that far more dolphins die at sea than on land.

Hundreds of dolphins are washing up on France’s Atlantic coast and thousands more are believed to be killed in fishing nets each year, as environmentalists and Brussels pressure the government to protect the marine mammals.

On Wednesday, Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, head of the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO), said he would write to President Emmanuel Macron that “the time has come to do our best to save dolphins from ill-treatment or even exterminated.

“This dramatic situation is even less acceptable since it can be avoided,” said Bougrain-Dubourg.

Dolphin activists say harmful fishing activities, including deep-sea trawling and bottom trawling, must be halted for several weeks in the Bay of Biscayne between France and Spain.

The Pelagis ocean observatory has seen a rise in dolphin deaths on the Atlantic coast, with 127 common dolphins washed up in January alone – up from 73 in the same month last year.

Increased dolphin deaths tend to be seen later in the year, during the coastal feeding season of February-March which brings them closer to fishing vessels in pursuit of whiting and porpoise.

This year the increase in discoveries is “particularly early”, Pelagis said this month.

Over the whole of 2022, 669 dolphins washed up – down from 1,299 in 2020.

Scientists believe that more than 80 percent of dead dolphins sink or decompose at sea rather than washing ashore, suggesting the true death toll is much higher at up to 11,000 in the face of the years.

As for the washed-up dolphins, “mostly showed signs of being caught in fishing gear”, Pelagis said, with the LPO singing “slices in the tail fins and clear traces of nets” on their skin.

‘Half measures’

CIEM, a scientific body that monitors the ecosystems of the North Atlantic, has for years taken a hiatus for some indiscriminate fishing techniques, overcoming fierce resistance from industrial fishermen.

After two years of pressure from the European Commission and under the spotlight from activists, an eight-point plan with technical measures has been provided in Paris so far, stopping far short of a total ban.

Measures include a voluntary observation scheme on board fishing vessels, satellite tracking and fitting trawlers with cameras or acoustic repellent devices that drive the dolphins away.

Many fishing vessels have already been fitted with the devices in a “large-scale experiment” to test their effectiveness, the government said.

But the LPO criticized that the government moves as “half measures … that will not change anything and will cost us precious time”.

Environmental group Sea Shepherd said the fishing devices create “massive exclusion zones in dolphin feeding grounds” that risk cutting them off from needed nutrition.

Paris did not fully close the door to temporary bans, suggesting that a “temporal and spatial closure” of fishing could be tested in the Bay of Biscayne in the winter of 2024-25 “if there are no satisfactory results in reducing dolphin catches “.

That is not soon enough for the activists. Sea Shepherd has filed a criminal complaint on January 16 against unknown persons for the failure to intervene.

© 2023 AFP

Quote: France under pressure to save dolphins from trawlers (2023, 25 January) retrieved 25 January 2023 from

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