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Ban fishing in parts of Atlantic, France told, as dolphin deaths surge

This comes as around 900 dolphins have washed-up dead on France’s Atlantic coastline this winter

A photo of dolphins swimming in the Bay of Biscay

Without action, dolphins risk disappearing from the Bay of Biscay completely, NGOs warn Pic: Hugh Harrop / Shutterstock

France’s highest administrative court has ordered the government to introduce no-fishing zones in parts of the Atlantic after a spike in the number of dolphins washing up dead along the country’s western coastline.

The Conseil d’Etat wants that done in six months and also told Paris to better track the number of dolphins accidentally captured as part of fishing operations.

910 deaths over the winter

It comes after a report by marine observatory Pelagis revealing at least 910 small cetaceans - more than 90% of which are dolphins - had washed up dead on France’s Atlantic shoreline over the winter. This included around 500 washing up in a single 10-day period in March.

Most show signs of having been injured in fishing nets and equipment or boat engines, Pelagis said. It is still investigating.

The observatory said flights over the area had shown dolphin carcasses off the coasts of Vendée and Charente-Maritime between the beginning of February and the start of March. It said this indicated that dolphins were still dying in large numbers, even if the numbers washing up on the coast had dropped.

Later, in the single weekend of March 11-12, the wind changed, and “the number of dolphins washing up on the shoreline was unprecedented”, said Pelagis. At least 120 washed up in just two days, it said.

As of Monday, March 20, the group said it had counted at least 500 small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) washing up on the coast since March 10. The most common places were:

  • Charente-Maritime (27%)
  • Vendée (22%)
  • Landes (20%)
  • Gironde (15%)
  • Brittany (14%)

Dolphins at risk of disappearance

NGOs including Sea Shepherd have also been campaigning on the issue. Sea Shepherd filed a complaint against the government, saying that it had not done enough to protect the species. Its lack of action, the NGOs say, risks causing the dolphins to go extinct from the Bay of Biscay.

So far, the government has not banned any fishing in the area. Instead, it has required boats to have onboard cameras, and loud sound equipment, in a bid to check the area for dolphins or to scare them away.

But the Conseil d’Etat specifically ruled that these techniques “do not guarantee” conservation for smaller species, including dolphins and porpoises.

Sea Shepherd has welcomed the ruling, calling it a “victory for dolphins” after six years of campaigning.

Sea Shepherd had also sought to draw attention to the issue by mounting a protest in front of the European Parliament, by displaying the bodies of seven dolphins that had been killed by fishing activity.

They held a banner that read: “Thousands of dolphins are killed each year in France so that you can eat fish.”

In a statement, it said: “The European Commission is too lax and too permissive…[it must take States to court for their failure to] implement the closures of fishing zones, an essential measure.”

It said that it had been waiting for the Conseil d’Etat’s decision.

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