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France, pressured to protect dolphins after the death of thousands of specimens

France, pressured to protect dolphins after the death of thousands of specimens

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

Hundreds of dolphins are washing up on France’s Atlantic coast and thousands more are believed to be dying each year in fishermen’s nets, as environmentalists and Brussels pressure the government to protect 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 everything possible to save dolphins from mistreatment or even from extinction”.

“This dramatic situation is even less acceptable given that it is avoidable,” added Bougrain-Dubourg.

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

The Pelagis oceanic observatory has detected an increase in dolphin deaths on the Atlantic coast: 127 common dolphins appeared in January alone, compared to 73 in the same month last year.

The spike in dolphin kills is typically seen late in the year, during their February-March coastal feeding season, which brings them closer to fishing vessels that pursue hake and sea bass.

This year the increase in finds is “especially early,” Pelagis said this month.

In all of 2022, 669 dolphins appeared, compared to 1,299 in 2020.

Scientists believe that more than 80% of dead dolphins sink or decompose at sea rather than wash up on shore, suggesting that the true number of deaths is much higher, up to 11,000 a year.

According to Pelagis, “most of the dead dolphins showed signs of having been caught with fishing gear”, with the LPO noting “cuts on the tail fins and clear traces of netting” on their skin.

half measures

ICES, a scientific body that monitors the ecosystems of the North Atlantic, has been calling for a winter break for some indiscriminate fishing techniques for years, which has met with fierce resistance from industrial fishermen.

After two years of pressure from the European Commission and in the crosshairs of activists, Paris has so far offered an eight-point plan with technical measures, far from a total ban.

The measures include a voluntary observer system on board fishing vessels, satellite monitoring and equipping trawlers with cameras or acoustic repellent devices that scare off dolphins.

According to the Government, many fishing boats are already equipped with these devices in a “large-scale experiment” to test their effectiveness.

But the LPO denounced the government measures as “half measures… which will change nothing and will waste precious time.”

the environmental group Sea Shepherd He stated that repellent devices “create huge exclusion zones in dolphin feeding grounds” that risk depriving them of the food they need.

Paris has not fully closed the door on temporary bans, suggesting that “time and space limited bans” on fishing in the Bay of Biscay in the winter of 2024-25 could be tried “if satisfactory results are not obtained in the bycatch reduction” of dolphins.

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

*With AFP; adapted from its original in English

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