France Nature Environnement takes the French government to court

© David Richard
A fishing boat approached by the NGO Sea Shepherd in the Bay of Biscay, on February 5, as part of “Dolphyn Bycatch”, the organization’s fifth campaign.

Since December, more than 500 dolphins have been found stranded on the French Atlantic coast. Almost all bore traces indicating that they had been accidentally caught by fishing gear. “This massacre, which recurs every winter, must stop”, tonne France Nature Environnement (FNE) in a communicated. After one “Umpteenth meeting on the subject”, organized by the government, on February 1, FNE lodged an appeal with the Council of State against the Minister for the Sea. The association considers insufficient the measures announced a week ago by Annick Girardin to put an end to the ‘“Massacre”.

«ANone of the measures taken by the French government make it possible to urgently reduce the mortality of dolphins in fishing nets as the European Commission had requested from France ”, Elodie Martinie-Cousty, pilot of FNE’s Oceans, Seas and Coastlines network, cited in the press release. The European Commission has in fact called on France to act. Its scientific body, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (Ciem) recommended the closure, during the winter, of fishing methods responsible for catches and a 40% reduction in fishing effort in the Bay of Biscay. What the Minister of the Sea refuses to do.

Risk of extinction of the species

Seven less ambitious commitments were presented by the government to limit the incidental capture of dolphins. One relates in particular to the equipment of the 87 trawlers of the Bay of Biscay, since January 1, of pingers, acoustic devices to keep cetaceans away. These sound repellents are however decried because they would chase dolphins from their feeding area.

Since the start of the year, five volunteer sailors have also been equipped with cameras, with a target of 20 vessels in 2021 for this test phase. Five boats equipped out of 200, an insufficient number for Elodie Martinie-Cousty, interviewed by AFP. She also regrets that “The obligation to declare catches (by fishermen) has not yet been respected”. For FNE, the debate has lasted too long. If its appeal is successful, the government could be forced to temporarily close this winter “Most harmful fishing methods.

Associations have been warning about this subject for years. To document the extent of the problem, the ocean conservation NGO Sea Shepherd, for example, is carrying out actions at night at sea to film dolphins caught in fishermen’s nets, in the Bay of Biscay. Accidental captures, linked to non-selective fishing methods, would have resulted in the death of at least 11,300 dolphins in 2019, according to estimates from the Pelagis Observatory, an institute under the supervision of the University of La Rochelle and the CNRS. Lack of emergency measures could “Ultimately lead to the disappearance of this species, which reproduces slowly and which is nevertheless supposed to be protected by law», worries FNE.

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