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Hundreds of dolphins found dead and mutilated, are stranded on the beaches of the Atlantic coast. The associations, which question industrial fishing, have decided to file a complaint to raise the alarm.
Hundreds of dolphins stranded on the beaches of the Atlantic: each year, the phenomenon amplifies and worries, prompting NGOs and scientists to demand a temporary interruption of fishing, considered responsible for these deaths, while the government is betting for the moment more on technical solutions.
On Wednesday January 25, the League for the Protection of Birds launched a citizen appeal and challenged the Elysée: “The time has come to do our utmost to save dolphins from abuse, even extinction” and to “suspend now and for several weeks the fishing practices responsible for the capture of dolphins in the Bay of Biscay”, alert Allain Bougrain-Dubourg, the president of the LPO, in a letter which he plans to send to Emmanuel Macron on January 31.
On January 16, the Pelagis observatory, which has been recording cetacean strandings on the Atlantic coast since 1970, warned of “a new episode of excess mortality of common dolphins”, with 282 strandings since 1er December. The government listed 91 small cetaceans stranded between 1er and December 31.
The fishermen involved
According to the LPO, “the photos showing cut caudal fins and visible traces of nets leave no doubt about the origin of this carnage”, pointing the finger at the responsibility of pelagic trawls and gillnets.
“The majority (of the stranded dolphins) showed traces of capture in fishing gear,” confirms Pelagis, noting that this “excess mortality” is “particularly early” this year.
In January 2022, 73 common dolphins washed up on Atlantic beaches. This year, just since the 1er January, we are already at 127, according to a count of January 24. Traditionally the majority of catches occur in February and March, when dolphins come closer to the coast to find their food and therefore have the most interaction with fishing gear, in the middle of the hake and bass fishing season.
After a peak in 2020 with 1,299 common dolphins killed, the number of annual strandings of this species, protected at French and European level, has fallen to 669 in 2022. But, knowing that more than 80% of dead dolphins sink or decay at sea rather than stranding, the annual mortality of dolphins on the Atlantic coasts is estimated at between 8,000 and 11,000 individuals, out of a population of around 180,000 to 200,000.
The Ciem, a scientific body which monitors the ecosystems of the North Atlantic, has for years advocated a winter suspension of certain non-selective fishing practices. A measure strongly opposed by industrial fishermen but demanded by several NGOs.
Call for “concrete measures”
Sea Shepherd France had denounced in mid-January the lack of “concrete measures” on the part of the State in the face of this mortality, announcing that it wanted to file a complaint, as in 2019.
Also pressed by the European Commission, which for two years has been asking it to do more, the French government, which recognizes that the increase in dolphin strandings is “worrying”, presented a new plan ten days ago in 8 points, supplementing that of 2019, which favored the improvement of knowledge and the implementation of technical measures, such as on-board cameras or acoustic repellents.
Since 1er January, these beacons, already in place on trawlers, are extended to the “most active gillnetters in the Bay of Biscay” (about 60% of the active fleet) as part of “a large-scale experiment” in order to evaluate the effectiveness of these solutions.
For the LPO, these are “half-measures (…) which will not change anything and waste precious time”. Sea Shepherd even considers them dangerous: “by creating vast exclusion zones for dolphins from their feeding grounds, the latter may no longer be able to meet their vital food needs”, she warns.
A voluntary observation campaign on board fishing gear, as well as geolocation devices also feature in the government plan, which “in the absence of satisfactory results on the reduction of accidental catches” does not completely close the door to “spatio-temporal closures” of fishing “in the winter of 2024-2025 in the Bay of Biscay”.