The highest court in France, the State Council, has ordered the government to ban fishing in some parts of the Atlantic Ocean to protect dolphins, which have been washing up dead in their hundreds. Most of the dolphins found dead on French beaches showed injuries consistent with being caught in nets, other fishing equipment or boat engines.
The move follows a report from the Pelagis oceanographic observatory which revealed that around 910 dolphins had washed up dead on France’s Atlantic coast since the start of the winter. Pelagis keeps track of populations of marine mammals in the area.
The number was exceptionally high for the past week, as over 400 dolphins were found stranded on the coast, Pelagis said on Friday, calling it an “unprecedented” number.
Many animals died in February and March when dolphins usually move closer to the coast to look for food and are more likely to get caught in fishing nets or hit by boats.
Environmental organizations, including Sea Shepherd, filed a legal complaint against the French government over the dolphin and porpoise deaths, arguing that the state was not doing enough to protect the animals, which are at risk of disappearing from parts of the Bay of Biscay on the Atlantic coast.
The French government had so far favoured reducing the impact of industrial fishing on dolphins with measures such as onboard cameras or loud sound equipment to drive the animals away.
But the State Council ruled that such “acoustic protection” instruments on fishing boats “do not guarantee a favourable state of conservation for small cetacean species”, including porpoises and dolphins, both of which are threatened with extinction in some regions.
The court gave the government six months to set up the no-fishing zones, and also called for increased monitoring of accidental capture of dolphins which it said was still too approximate.