NGOs warn that thousands of common dolphins in the Bay of Biscay face horrific deaths in fishing nets this winter if the EU Commission does not step in with emergency measures to reduce bycatch, the single largest cause of harm and death to these dolphins today.
The NGO’s claims that due to the lack of effective action from France and Spain, the organisations Seas At Risk, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, France Nature Environnement, International Fund for Animal Welfare, ClientEarth, WWF, Ecologistas en Acción, and Sea Shepherd France are calling on the European Commission to follow the scientific advice it requested and urgently close the fisheries responsible for the incidental capture and killing of thousands of dolphins in the Bay of Biscay every winter. The temporary closure of fisheries, from 1 December 2020 until 31 March 2021 would prevent unnecessary deaths of this iconic and protected marine species.
“We are running against the clock. If we do not act now, thousands of protected dolphins will be killed in fishing nets in the coming months – again. Only the temporary closure of the fisheries responsible for the incidental catches can prevent another season of mass deaths that are both unnecessary and unwanted”, says Andrea Ripol, Fisheries Policy Officer at Seas At Risk. She adds: “Earlier this year the Commission promised to take emergency measures if needed, and now is the time to do so.”
Sarah Dolman, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, says: “The European Commission urgently needs to adopt short-term emergency measures if it is to prevent dolphin deaths. At the same time it must give France, Spain and other nations fishing in and around the Bay of Biscay the time to develop effective long-term measures to prevent bycatch of protected common dolphins.”
Sophie Mjati, France Nature Environnement, says: “Despite first announcing that they would close the fisheries responsible for common dolphin bycatch in the Bay of Biscay for six weeks this winter (during the national bycatch WG meeting in July 2020), France has now decided not to close the fisheries at all, citing a lack of scientific data. This, in fact, goes against ICES’s advice and Pelagis Observatory’s decades of work on this issue. Civil society is now urging the European Commission to take emergency measures and close the fisheries, as France is not capable of respecting its own laws or those of the EU and international conventions.”
“It is incredible that after the speech from the Commissioner early this year, and the commitment taken, we are having to ask for these important measures to be adopted. We fear that commitments undertaken in the biodiversity strategy are far from real action”, adds Eleonora Panella, Senior Campaigner at IFAW.
ClientEarth’s Wildlife and Habitats lawyer John Condon says: “France and Spain are already subject to legal action launched by the Commission for their failure to prevent bycatch. To stop this breach from being exacerbated, the Commission must urgently act to protect common dolphins in the Bay of Biscay.”
Dr Antonia Leroy, Head of Ocean Policy, WWF European Policy Office says: “Despite the EU infringement procedure launched by the European Commission last summer, France and Spain have failed to provide adequate mitigation measures to tackle the crisis of dolphin bycatch in the Bay of Biscay. As one of the main threats to marine mammals, already leading some of them to the brink of extinction, it’s time for the European Commission to impose emergency measures, including a fisheries closure this winter.”
“France cannot pretend that dolphins are a protected species and yet continue to allow hundreds of fishing boats with non-selective fishing methods to fish in the territory of the dolphins. We urgently need a fishing sector that is more respectful of the ocean and transparent about what is happening at sea. This is nowhere in sight!”, says Lamya Essemlali – President of Sea Shepherd France.
Ana Aldarias, Coordinator of Marine Issues at Ecologistas en Acción, says: “Spain is intervening very slowly to end the incidental capture of cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay, rather than taking the prompt action needed to save the dolphins. In light of the lack of meaningful action by Spain to date, we urge the European Commission to put in place emergency measures that will give time to Spain to coordinate with France to implement ambitious measures in the medium and long-term. This should be the first step in an integrated plan to end bycatch of all species in Spanish fisheries”.
Scientists estimate that more than 10,000 common dolphins are killed in the Bay of Biscay every year due to harmful fishing activities, with peak deaths and strandings occurring between December and March.