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Since the start of the year, 300 dolphins have been stranded in the Bay of Biscay. It’s more than last year on the same date. 2019 had however been a record year, with more than 11,300 cetaceans killed, twice as many as in 2016. If the curve continues, 2020 will be another dark year.
The cause is clearly identified. Most cetaceans died of suffocation after being caught in the nets of fishermen. “There is no doubt that most of the animals found today died by accidental capture in fishing gear.“, confirms Hélène Peltier, biologist at the Pelagis Observatory, a public institute for cetacean studies based in La Rochelle. The day before our arrival, 34 cetaceans washed up on the Vendée coast.
To try to curb this phenomenon, the Sea Sheperd organization is monitoring fishing vessels. A Zodiac and a boat patrol regularly at night in the Bay of Biscay. In the freezing cold, on a rough sea 50 km from the coast, the volunteers wait for the nets to be raised to try to document the dolphin catches. Because too many fishermen, even today, do not report these catches. “There is no transparency, laments Damien Chaumillon of Sea Sheperd. We are calling for cameras on the decks of fishing vessels, so scientists can clearly identify the vessels that catch the most dolphins. “
Dolphin advocates lack data on these catches. The Pelagis Observatory estimates that there are not more dolphins, but that they are undoubtedly closer to the coasts, looking for food in the fishing areas. In the past year, observers have boarded boats, and sound repellents, the “pingers”, have been imposed on pelagic trawls in an attempt to ward off dolphins. But that didn't stop the slaughter.
We want to continue fishing (…) and reach zero accidental catch of dolphins.Mathias Duret, fisherman
Today the fishermen are divided. Some refuse to play on transparency. The National Fisheries Committee is trying to move forward on this thorny subject, which could ultimately hamper fishing conditions. “There are accidental catches. We do everything on our side to try to remedy it, says Mathias Duret, fisherman of Les Sables d'Olonne. We want to continue fishing. We want to try to deal with it, and get to zero accidental catch of dolphins.”
After being accused of being the main culprits, pelagic trawls are no longer the only suspects. The far more numerous queueers could also have a large share of responsibility. Spanish ships are also in sight. This year, the government developed a national action plan for cetaceans, but was found to be “unsatisfactory” by the National Conservation Council.
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