Thousands of dolphins die off the French coast each year. Is a temporary fishing ban the answer?

Thousands of dolphins die off the French coast each year. Is a temporary fishing ban the answer?

France has introduced a temporary ban on nearly all commercial fishing in the Bay of Biscay in an effort to protect dolphins.

It will last a month, beginning on 22 January and continuing until 20 February.

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The measure applies to both French and foreign fishing companies.

It comes after estimates found thousands of dolphins die in the bay each year, due to getting accidentally snarled up in fishing gear.

Local fishermen have lambasted the ban as “absurd” and say it puts their livelihoods at risk.

France bans fishing to protect dolphins

The month-long ban will impact fishing grounds off France’s Atlantic coast.

The measure will see fishing cease almost completely from Finistere in western Brittany to the Spanish border.

The ban applies to boats longer than eight metres, meaning around 450 French vessels will be forced to stay in the port, reports suggest.

In the Bay of Biscay, an estimated 9,000 dolphin deaths are caused each year by accidents with fishing equipment — also known as ‘bycatch’ — according to French marine experts CIEM.

The temporary halt to fishing in the area came after the country’s highest administrative court, the State Council, ordered the move last year.

Environmentalists have been pushing for increased protection for the marine mammals for years after surges in deaths off the Atlantic Coast.

CIEM, which tracks North Atlantic ecosystems, has called repeatedly for a winter pause of certain unethical fishing techniques.

Dolphins can become trapped in gear like nets, ropes and lines attached to fishing boats.

Smaller species often perish immediately, according to the International Whaling Commission, as they cannot reach the surface to breathe.

Larger animals might escape, but are often left with fishing equipment still attached and end up dragging heavy ropes, buoys or nets around for years, the commission added.

Fisherman protest against Bay of Biscay ban

The ban has sparked anger amongst French fishermen and industry professionals who say the sector could lose out on millions of euros of income.

In response, the country’s government has promised compensation. Minister for Ecological Transition Christophe Béchu told French press that up to 75 per cent of revenue losses would be covered and paid “as quickly as possible”.

“It’s absurd to stop businesses like this for a month,” Raymond Millet, a fisherman from La Rochelle on the west coast, told news agency AFP.

With 40 years of experience, Millet added that vessels nine to 11 metres long “are not the kind of boats that fish for dolphins.”

Others say the compensation promised by authorities would be insufficient to cover losses.

French fishing industry body CNPMEM blamed ‘extremist NGOs’ and claimed dolphins are ‘not endangered’.

Philippe Garcia, head of marine conservation group Défense des Milieux Aquatiques, advised fishermen to cooperate with the measures.

“If the fishermen don’t play along, it’s counterproductive for them,” he said, as further deaths of the marine animals would add ammunition to the environmentalists’ argument.


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