Dolphins, collateral victims of fishing in the Bay of Biscay

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Two corpses of dolphins lying on the Place du Trocadéro in the heart of Paris and a banner: “Thousands of dolphins like this are slaughtered every year in France so that you eat fish”. By this spectacular action in the heart of the capital, the ocean defense NGO Sea Shepherd wanted Tuesday “Involve Parisians who feel disconnected from this problem while the restaurants serve sea bass, hake, cod, whose fishing techniques cause the death of cetaceans”.

The NGO wants to alert the public to the increase in accidental dolphin catches in the Bay of Biscay. “2019 was the year of all records” with 1,200 strandings of small cetaceans between January and April, including 880 dolphins, deplores the biologist Hélène Peltier, quoted by the AFP. A balance sheet which does not take into account the dolphins whose corpses sink or are carried offshore, and which could exceed 11,000 animals, out of a total population estimated at around 200,000 in the Bay of Biscay. And the observation is clear: 80% of dolphins autopsied by the Pelagis observatory bear marks of collision with fishing gear.

Lamya Essemlali, President of Sea Shepherd France, talks about a “Responsibility shared between politicians who do not take strong measures, fishermen who know they are destroying the sea and consumers who eat fish without question”. But fishermen feel the first target. Hubert Carré, Director General of the National Committee for Marine Fisheries and Marine Aquaculture (CNPMEM, Interprofessional Union of Professions in the Fishing Sector) deplores the sad “show” orchestrated by this association “pirate”.

“Everyone ends up in the same place”

“From December to March, fishermen track hake, bass and cod, which feed on small pelagic fish such as sardines and anchovies found in the Bay of Biscay. These fish are also the food of the dolphin. Everyone ends up in the same place ”, he explains. However, he points out that French fishermen are implementing measures to avoid these accidental fishing as much as possible. The first: the establishment of “Pingers”, sound repellents to keep dolphins away from nets and trawls. Studies show that they can reduce the number of dolphins trapped by 65%.

“All pelagic beef trawlers (which pull the trawl together, Editor’s note) are now equipped with pingers”recalls Hubert Carré, who adds that these ships also agreed to take observers on board, members of a private company financed by the state. But other vessels, including 20 solo trawlers and 350 French flyers, fish in this area … not to mention the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch vessels. Difficult to know who captures what.

One program, Licado (“Limitation of incidental catches of common dolphins in the Bay of Biscay”), plans to adapt the means of distance for each type of fishing. “The problem if we multiply the sound repellents is that the dolphin, which can be identified by its sonar, risks being disoriented in a universe that has become too noisy “, notes Hubert Carré. A confusion which risks ultimately driving him straight into the fishing nets. “We are presented with pingers as quick fixes, but we can see that the problem is only getting worse”reacts the president of Sea Shepherd France, adding that these acoustic repellents have the main effect of repelling dolphins from feeding areas and habitat.

“On-board cameras? Out of the question”

Since January 2019, French fishermen must also report the incidental catch of marine mammals, in order to help scientists better understand in particular which boats are involved. “This declaration, we obviously recommend it”, assures Hubert Carré, admitting however that the fishermen do not want to pass for criminals, in the current context.

Lamya Essemlali regrets that more money is not being allocated to stem this phenomenon. Fishermen say they are thinking of other solutions, such as setting up a network of real-time observers that would alert fishermen to the presence of dolphins. As for the cameras on board boats, as Sea Shepherd recommends, Hubert Carré simply does not want to hear about it: “It is not by installing cameras that we will reduce accidental catches”.

The government, for its part, is preparing a cetacean protection plan for the end of the month, and is negotiating with Brussels to harmonize measures for all European boats. The director general of the CNPMEM indeed hopes that the same efforts will be required of all, reminding in passing that the Spanish trawlers are not equipped with pingers.



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