From January to March, an average of 6,000 dolphins are killed each year on France’s west coast by large industrial trawlers and vessels fishing in pairs (nets dragged between two trawlers).
That number could be as high as 10,000 according to the Pelagis Observatory, based in La Rochelle. That’s more than the number of dolphins killed each year in the Danish Faroe Islands and The Cove in Taiji, Japan, combined.
A macabre scene
These vessels fish mainly for sea bass, targeting spawning grounds during the breeding season. This practice not only threatens sea bass populations, but is also deadly to dolphins trapped and drowned in the nets as by-catch.
While on patrol in the Rochebonne plateau, Sea Shepherd’s vessel the Bob Barker filmed the trawlers Jeremi Simon and Promethée pulling up their nets with two dolphins trapped inside. One of the dolphins seemed already drowned, but the other, still alive, emitted whistles of distress.
Instead of discarding the dolphins back into the water in front of the Sea Shepherd crew, the two dolphins were brought aboard one of the two vessels. This macabre scene is repeated every night, all year round along the French coast, peaking between January and March.
Population under threat
The Pelagis Observatory has been publishing alarming reports about the declining dolphin populations for several years, without being heard.
In a 2016 report signed by the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Pélagis and the University of La Rochelle, it is clearly stated that the mortality inflicted on dolphins by fishing vessels jeopardises the survival of the population in the medium term.
Marine mammals are particularly vulnerable, with low fertility rates and a high sensitivity to chemical and plastic pollution. They also face food scarcity due to overfishing.
It’s urgent to take immediate measures to protect them, but the French State has not yet responded to the scientists’ warnings on the subject, and the fishermen involved are taking advantage of the general public’s lack of awareness.
‘An agonising death’
Dolphins that typically live alongside sea bass are caught in fishing nets that indiscriminately capture everything in their path.
From there follows an agonising death as the trapped dolphins are drowned in the net. Any dolphins that are pulled up alive usually die from wounds inflicted by fishermen onboard the vessels.
The corpses regularly washing up on French beaches show fractures, broken tails and flippers and deep incisions cut into their skin by the nets.