PARIS (AP) – France’s highest administrative body on Monday ordered the government to better protect endangered dolphins and porpoises at an industrial fishing center in the Atlantic Ocean that has become controversial over links to the mass deaths of the creatures in recent years.
The move has been welcomed by conservationists, who hope it will prevent the extinction of some species in the area.
The Council of State has given government officials six months to “close fishing areas in the Bay of Biscay for appropriate periods, in order to limit the number of deaths of common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and porpoises accidentally caught while fishing. “
It also required them to compile a reliable estimate of the number of unwanted catches per year.
Government-affiliated scientists estimate that around 10,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed on average each year in the maritime zone of western France alone – a recent year recorded 18,000 deaths. They are widely attributed to industrial fishing.
Indiscriminate French nets, sometimes 50 kilometers (31 miles) long, scour the ocean in search of ordinary fish, indiscriminately attracting a full range of sea creatures.
Several species are now in an “unfavorable conservation” status, with the common dolphin and harbor porpoise in “serious danger of extinction” in the region, officials said.
What shocks people is the brutality of many of the deaths. Autopsies performed on some dolphins have shown extreme levels of mutilation. Activists say it is common for fishermen to cut off the body parts of choked dolphins after they are pulled up in the nets, to save the nets.
Sea Shepherd France is among the groups that have fought to get fishing vessels and boats to curb their deadly practices.
“Of course, this move is a ray of hope for us, but it’s bittersweet. So many dolphins have already died, we see dead creatures being washed ashore every day. I hope it’s not too late,” Sea Shepherd France’s Lamya Essemlali told the Associated Press. “We’ve come this far. Even a few years ago in France nobody knew about these horrors”.
French and international conservation groups now want French Sea Minister Herve Berville to implement recommendations from international agencies that the Bay of Biscay must be closed to fishing for three months in winter and one month in summer to save the population .
But the damage to the whale population has already been done. Dolphins in the area are already behaving in ways scientifically consistent with a dying population, conservation groups say.
“Dolphins have already changed their reproductive pattern; they are giving birth faster. This is a sign of just before extinction,” Essemlali added.