The M/Y Sam Simon arrives in France for Dolphin ByCatch Campaign

Martedì, 19 Feb, 2019

Sea Shepherd’s M/Y Sam Simon has arrived off the Atlantic Coast of France to join the Operation Dolphin ByCatch, our campaign exposing the ongoing slaughter of dolphins by industrial fishing vessels in the Bay of Biscay. The ship joins Sea Shepherd's small boats, which have been patrolling the coast since February 11th under the direction of Sea Shepherd France.  

Sea Shepherd’s small boat Viking on patrol, with trawler from Les Sables-d'Olonne, France. Photo Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.
Night trawler, based in Les Sables-d'Olonne, France. Photo Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd’s small boats Viking and Thunder on patrol in the Bay of Biscay. Photo Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.
Day trawler, based in Les Sables-d'Olonne, France. Photo Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.
Two night trawlers from Les Sables-d'Olonne, France. Photo Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd’s M/Y Sam Simon and small boat Viking on patrol in the Bay of Biscay the weekend of February 16-17, 2019. Photo Tara Lambourne/Sea Shepherd.

Over the past six weeks, 600 dead dolphins have washed up on French beaches in the Vendée, Charente Maritime, and Gironde. These deaths are only the tip of the iceberg, since more than 80% of the corpses, often gutted, sink at sea.  Most of the bodies found are mutilated, with severed fins, gaff hook marks, deep cuts, and broken rostrums consistent with capture in fishing gear. These dolphins, which spend winter in the Bay of Biscay, are victims of non-selective fishing operations (including trawlers, Danish seiners, and gillnetters) targeting sea bass and hake for the French market. According to scientists who have been documenting the deaths, the dolphins are also being killed by French and foreign vessels engaged in industrial fishing for surimi and fishmeal further offshore.

“We are faced with an absurd fisheries policy that allows extremely destructive and non-selective fishing gear in sensitive areas during the sea bass breeding season where protected species such as dolphins are particularly vulnerable to capture,” said Lamya Essemlali, President of Sea Shepherd France. “We’re tired of seeing scientists' alerts being ignored year after year, and the indifference of the Fisheries Committees and the Ministry, which have been pretending to be working on the problem for 20 years."

“Sea Shepherd has decided to patrol the area night and day. We will focus on the silent extermination of dolphins off our coast in order to finally hold fishermen, politicians and consumers accountable.”

- Lamya Essemlali, President, Sea Shepherd France

More about Operation Dolphin ByCatch

From January through 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. This is much more than the dolphin massacres of the Danish Faroe Islands and the Taiji Cove (Japan) combined. These vessels target sea bass spawning grounds during the breeding season. Dolphins that typically live alongside sea bass are caught in fishing nets that capture everything in their path indiscriminately. Most of the dolphins die in the nets, and those pulled up alive usually die from wounds inflicted by fishermen onboard the vessels.This practice not only threatens sea bass populations, but is also deadly to dolphins trapped and drowned in the nets as by-catch. In February 2018, Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker crew passing through La Rochelle filmed the trawlers Jeremi Simon and Promethée pulling up their nets with two dolphins trapped inside (see article and footage here).

Dolphin populations may be wiped out on the Atlantic Coast of France

Year after year, the Pelagis Observatory has published alarming reports about the declining dolphin populations, including a 2016 report signed by the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Pélagis and the University of La Rochelle that predicts the mortality inflicted on dolphins by fishing vessels jeopardizes the survival of the population in the medium term. However the French State is turning a deaf ear to all the scientists' warnings on the subject.

Intentionally opaque reporting of by-catch numbers keeps the public in the dark

"By-catch" is the nondescript term used to describe the hecatomb of dolphins taking place each year along French coasts, a slaughter that takes place in total and tightly-guarded opacity. In fact, although the law requires fishermen to declare their dolphin catches, in practice the State has not designated any regulatory body to receive this data. This vacuum prevents any monitoring of the mortality inflicted on marine mammals by trawlers. The Pelagis Observatory is qualified and capable of receiving this data but has not obtained the authorization to do so. Furthermore, no funds have been allocated to the implementation of more selective fishing techniques, even though these funds exist. Industrial fishing is heavily subsidized in France, but reducing dolphin mortality is not one of the priorities of the State's fisheries policy.

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