Fishing activities taking place in French waters pose a serious threat to the common dolphin (Delphinus Delphis), a protected species under French and international law. During the winter of 2017, about 4,000 common dolphins died at sea in the Bay of Biscay due to fishing activities. Since the beginning of 2018, 300 strandings of small dead cetaceans have been reported on the French Atlantic coast, 80% of which were common dolphins. It is possible that some of the boats responsible for maiming and killing dolphins were fishing in Natura 2000 Marine Protected Areas at the time. Seas At Risk member, France Nature Environnement, is alarmed by the French government’s failure to act and asks that it takes the necessary measures to stop this massacre.

The common dolphin is often the victim of the pelagic trawl fishing commonly practiced at this time of year off the French coast. According to the Pelagis Observatory at the National Commission for Scientific Research, in 2017, 90% of stranded dolphins bore the marks of fishing gear and nets, holes from boat hooks, and mutilations inflicted during release from nets. Only a small share of the dolphins who die at sea are stranded on the coast. With 80% known to sink and decompose in the sea, it is certain that the total number of dolphins killed is significantly underestimated. The entire French Atlantic coast continues to be affected by these disastrous effects of fishing.

It is likely that some of this deadly fishing activity takes place in Natura 2000 Marine Protected Areas. This is in violation of EU law, specifically the provision of the Habitats Directive which states that activities that adversely affect a protected habitat and its ‘typical species’, such as dolphins, should be prohibited.

France Nature Environnement is calling on the French government to:

  1. Ban pair and pelagic trawling during bass reproduction season in Natura 2000 protected sites, where dolphins share the same habitat. The ban would drastically reduce indirect impact of fisheries on dolphins, allowing in parallel the reproduction of the bass.
  2. Take the necessary measures to enforce Article 6 of EU Regulation 812/2004 on incidental catches of cetaceans in fisheries, which requires Member States to send a complete annual report to the Commission on the mortality of cetaceans, including dolphins. Currently, France does not adhere to this requirement, and France Nature Environnement is considering lodging an official complaint of non-compliance with the European Commission.
  3. Establish an effective research programme on the use of deterrent systems for pelagic fishing. Such systems would reduce mortality by scaring cetaceans away from fishing gear.

French local associations, Ré Nature Environnement and Nature Environnement 17 (both of which are members of France Nature Environnement), have produced a briefing document which outlines the history of the catastrophic consequences of fishing activities for dolphins and seeks to increase recognition of the marks made by fishing gear on cetaceans.

Capture dolphin