Dolphins have been ensnared in fishing nets in the Atlantic waters off Western Europe for decades. However, alterations to fishing practices in the area have led to a sharp increase in the number of deaths.
A record number of dead dolphins washed up on France’s Atlantic beaches after what animal activists claim to be the aftermath of the fishing industry’s cruel practices.
Between 1 December and 25 January, researchers at the Pelagis sea mammal and bird observatory affiliated with the University of La Rochelle documented 370 dead dolphins found along the Gulf of Gascony.
According to them, dolphins in the area are dying because they get entangled in fishing gear, and this has been the leading cause of their deaths since the 1990s.
“Without any doubt, being entangled in fishing gear remains the principal cause of death observed in common dolphins found in winter strandings on beaches and has been since the 1990s,” Pelagis reported.
“This situation is worrying and not specific to France as it affects neighbouring countries,”
Dolphin population in danger
The numbers have been so high that the survival of local populations seems unlikely, marine biologists say.
“We’re reaching mortality rates that threaten the survival of the dolphin population in the Bay of Gascony,” Morgane Perri, a marine biologist in Brittany, western France, said.
“For the last three years, we’ve seen more than 1,000 deaths (dolphins and porpoises) over a four-month period each winter.”
Experts have raised concerns, and they, along with animal activists, are urging the authorities to intervene.
Sea Shepherd France, a marine conservation group, released hundreds of photos of dolphins injured and wounded by fish trawlers. One of the dolphins’ bodies was even mutilated with a homophobic message. It washed up on a French beach at Sables d’Olonne.
“This is the worst face of fishing: no respect for the living, no love for the sea that sustains them. Those who atrociously mutilated this dolphin should never be allowed to fish again.”
Reported deaths is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’
According to Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd France, “the number of dolphins washing up on beaches is the tip of the iceberg, and the toll could be many times higher.”
Essemlali continued: “The large majority of the dolphins captured and freed then drown at sea and their bodies sink.
“It is urgent that we close certain zones to fishing boats during certain periods.”
Dolphins have been ensnared in fishing nets in the Atlantic waters off Western Europe for decades. Now, however, marine scientists believe the sharp increase in dolphin captures is a result of the altered fishing practices in the area.
Data revealed that 669 dolphins were killed during the sea bass and hake fishing season last year, from December 2021 until April 2022.
The activist group is calling for a ban on trawlers that fish in sea bass spawning grounds and stricter enforcement of fisheries regulations, but the government has not responded favourably.
“We keep asking for this, but the fishing lobby is powerful in France, and the government has refused. It’s extremely frustrating,” Essemlali said.
“The only thing we can do is display the dead and mutilated dolphins to local people and to the press and make people realise what is happening.”
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