French Government Measures to Protect Dolphins Fall Short

Wednesday, 24 Feb, 2021

On January 14th, 2021 the French Ministry of the Sea published its action plan to fight against the so-called accidental captures of dolphins and other small cetaceans off the Atlantic coast. This seven-point action plan sounds ambitious, but in reality, most of these commitments already exist under French law (some for almost a decade), and others have already been proven ineffective.

Sea Shepherd display dolphins killed in fishing nets in front of the French Parliament. Photo Sea Shepherd.

Seven Non-Commitments Made in 2021 by the French Government, the Fishing Industry, and Scientists

1. To make it mandatory to report all accidental captures. This has been in place since January 2019 for the purpose of collecting precise data for a better understanding of the interaction between fishing activities and small cetaceans.

However…this measure was adopted in July 2011 and supposedly put into practice since January 2012. But the government didn’t create the tools necessary to record these declarations until 2019, or seven years later. Since December 2020, only 28 declarations have been recorded in the same time period when nearly 450 dolphins have washed up dead on the beaches.

2. To keep a record of strandings (dead dolphins washed up on the shore), to publish data and to keep an account of progress made by initiatives. Since mid-December 2020, a bi-monthly publication of an information bulletin is being published on the Ministry of the Sea website. This should ensure clear and transparent monitoring of the evolution of the phenomena of dolphin strandings and the progress made by the initiatives.

However…these bi-weekly reports were already being published since December 2019 on the website of the French Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

3. To fit all trawlers that interact with cetaceans with acoustic deterrent devices (pingers) and to pursue the development of technical solutions. This came into effect on January 1st, 2021. To date there are 87 vessels fitted with pingers. Two scientific studies with the CNPMEM and the University of Montpellier are being conducted to develop new dissuasive technologies.

However…Pelagic trawlers were are already required to use pingers since January 2020. Moreover, the use of these pingers consist of scaring away the dolphins from their feeding areas and natural habitat.

4. To implement aerial observation programs. This started in winter 2020-21, with three months of flyovers to estimate the abundance and the distribution area of the population of common dolphins in the Bay of Biscay at a cost of €500k.

However…Aerial observation programs (“SAMM”) already exist since 2011, so this is simply a continuation of an existing program.

5. To test fitting on-board cameras on gillnetters in the Bay of Biscay for the purpose of gaining scientific knowledge. Started in February 2021, with the goal of fitting 20 vessels with these cameras voluntarily, to gain a better understanding of the causes of accidental captures. The 2021 budget for this is €1.5 million.

However…Five voluntary vessels are already equipped with cameras, therefore the measure consists of convincing 15 more vessels to participate, representing only 0.04% of the total fishing fleet. These numbers are not very ambitious given the stakes for the dolphins. Some countries like Australia made CCTV cameras compulsory onboard all fishing vessels to monitor destructive fishing methods.

6. To conduct an international project with Spain and Portugal on accidental captures of cetaceans. Scheduled to begin March 2021. The purpose of this initiative is to develop better population estimates and ways to limit interactions through the sharing of scientific knowledge and innovations between the three countries.

However…data sharing already exists between France, Spain and Portugal. What we need now is for these countries to respect the European guidelines and to act quickly.

7. To conduct a voluntary observation campaign of fishing onboard trawlers and gillnetters. The timeline for this is December 2020 through April 2021. To date, 1000 tides have been observed with a total of 1375 days at sea by 40 observers (32 which were recruited during the winter of 2020-21), with a budget of €1 million.

However…the presence of observers onboard fishing boats is entirely based on the goodwill of the fishermen. Sea Shepherd interviewed an observer who preferred to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals, about the pressures and threats they face trying to do their job.

“These measures presented as strong commitments from the Ministry of the Sea are smoke screens. Faced with the irresponsibility of our politicians, it is up to us, consumers and voters, to change our eating habits and to vote for people who are up to the current ecological challenges.”

Lamya Essemlali, President Sea Shepherd France
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