The government, forced by justice to close winter fishing areas in the Atlantic to preserve dolphins, plans to allow a total exemption for vessels equipped with devices whose effectiveness is nevertheless disputed by NGOs, according to a draft arrested consulted Thursday by AFP. The text, which must be put out for public consultation shortly, plans to ban the use of several types of trawls and nets “in the Bay of Biscay from January 22 to February 20 inclusive for the years 2024 to 2026”, – given the resurgence of dolphin strandings during this period.
Ensuring a favorable state of conservation
However, “for the year 2024, the ban (…) does not apply to vessels equipped with active technical devices to reduce accidental catches or an active remote electronic observation system”, provides the draft decree. In other words for boats equipped, on the hull or the nets, with acoustic repellent systems or equipped with computer programs with underwater cameras. This draft decree follows a decision in March of the Council of State, seized in 2021 by several associations for the defense of the environment – France Nature environment (FNE), Sea Shepherd France and the association for the defense of aquatic environments (DMA).
The highest administrative court considered that the current measures, including the experimentation of these acoustic devices, did not make it possible “to guarantee a favorable conservation status for the species of small cetaceans”, two of which – the common dolphin and the harbor porpoise – are threatened with extinction, “at least regionally”.
“A significant contribution” to the fight against accidental catches
The draft decree, issued by the services of the Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, affirms that the camera systems “are likely to make a significant contribution” to the fight against accidental captures. “The visibility provided to fishing professionals over several years is a determining factor in their commitment to equip themselves with technical devices or a remote electronic observation system”, further justifies the text in its preamble.
The planned closure period does not concern the Gulf of Morbihan or the Arcachon basin. “More efforts” must be made by the French authorities to avoid accidental captures of dolphins, European Commissioner for Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius told AFP in May. The Pelagis observatory recorded 1,380 strandings of small cetaceans between December and April on the Atlantic coast. In July 2020, the European Commission opened infringement proceedings against France in this case.