France, Spain, and Portugal launched the joint Cetambicion marine project on 15 March to protect cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay, but researchers and civil society campaigners say it is a waste of ‘precious’ time. EURACTIV France reports.
The Cetambicion project aims to “carry out joint scientific work and exchange views on future European measures” in order to eventually reduce “the stranding of marine mammals on the Gulf coast”.
However, according to the president of Sea Shepherd France, Lamya Essemlali, “we have already identified the fisheries responsible for the catches, we have an idea of the zones. The sea ministry is losing precious time.”
For European scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and ocean protection associations, the time for research is over. In La Rochelle, the Pelagis observatory noted that “in the Bay of Biscay, the situation of dolphin stranding caused by fishing has been particularly critical since 2016”, adding that during the winter of 2019, around 11,500 common dolphins were found dead on the coast.
According to the Sea Shepherd’s president, the situation is very urgent. “ICES scientists have already shared their findings and recommendations with all European countries. France, Spain, and Portugal only have to follow the recommendations that have already been made and which are very clear”, she added.
To prevent the species from becoming extinct and give the dolphins space to breathe, the ICES has recommended closing fishing zones for three months in the winter and one month in the summer.
Such accidental catches are the consequence of the activities of fishermen, trawlers, and small boats. According to French Renew MEP and former sailor, Catherine Chabaud, who visited the Pelagis observatory, the findings are clear: “the stigmata on cetaceans that have been caught accidentally are not the same as those that have been hit”.
“They are slashed by the nets,” confirmed Essemlali.
Dolphins, bass, and hake are attracted to the same fish and thus feed in the same areas. Since trawlers catch bass and hake, dolphins become trapped in fishing nets. Unable to come to the surface to breathe, they die.
Measures, including cameras on boats that could make it possible to report accidental catches to the authorities, have already been put in place. But Essemlali continues to denounce the lack of rigour on the part of fishermen. “They don’t play the game and don’t make the declarations, even though they are obligatory and above all anonymous. Out of 11,300 dolphins killed in 2019, there were seven declarations,” she said.
Sea Shepherd filed a petition on Tuesday (23 March) before France’s highest legal entity, the Council of State, claiming that the sea ministry’s inaction breached the fundamental right of access to a healthy environment.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]