Three years ago, French non-governmental organisations (NGOs) filed a court case against France’s inaction to protect dolphins in the Bay of Biscay. Finally – thanks to their perseverance – the French High Court of State ordered the French Government to temporarily close certain fishing areas to guarantee the conservation of the dolphins’ population in the area. 

Dolphins are iconic species protected by EU legislation under the Habitats Directive. However, up to now, their protection has been no more than nice words on paper. In fact, between 5,000 and 10,000 dolphins are incidentally killed every year in fishing nets in the Bay of Biscay, with deaths and strandings peaking between December and March. 

Although scientists repeatedly called for closures of the responsible fisheries during these peak seasons, France constantly refused to act on these calls, limiting its preventive measures solely to deployment of pinglers – acoustic devices meant to keep dolphins away from fishing nets. 

The French High Court of State finally recognized the inefficiency of pinglers to prevent the incidental catch of dolphins and acknowledged that fisheries closures are necessary to preserve the dolphins’ population, which is seriously threatened by bycatch in the region. 

Civil society now expects the French government to adopt the best closures scenario advised by ICES scientists. They advise closures during the periods with the highest number of incidental catches of dolphins, or one month fisheries closure during the summer, followed by a three-month closure in the winter. The French government has until 20 September, 2023 to make their decision.

This judgment from the High Court of State represents a historic victory for both dolphins and NGOs, who have been working for years to move governments and the European Commission to comply with EU legislation and duly protect marine sensitive species.