Sea Shepherd Discovers Dead Dolphins Stockpiled in French Coastal Town

Friday, 15 Mar, 2019

While mutilated dolphin corpses continue to wash up by the hundreds on France’s Atlantic Coast as bycatch of the offshore fishing industry, Sea Shepherd's on-shore teams have discovered a stockpile of dead dolphins in Les Sables d'Olonne where the bodies collected on its beaches each week are dumped before sending them to a rendering plant.

According to scientists, only 20% of the dolphins killed eventually wash up on the beach, which means it’s possible that several thousand have already been killed this year since 700 bodies have been found since the end of December.

Independent Observers persona non grata on Fishing Boats in Les Sables

For scientists, the first step towards improving the situation would be to clearly identify the responsible vessels by means of observers or on-board cameras. While in many countries this presence is mandatory, France not only allows destructive fishing methods in sensitive areas, but also gives its fishermen the choice to refuse any independent observation. The trawlers from Les Sables d'Olonne and Saint Gilles that Sea Shepherd filmed with dolphins in their nets have refused any observers.

“When will the law require this? How long is the government going to let a handful of people block any progress on this issue? How can we explain the fact that fisheries committees have such power and impunity in this country?” asks Lamya Essemlali, President of Sea Shepherd France.

"It has to be said that apart from the declarations of intent issued by press releases every year, the government does not take the problem seriously and is mainly concerned about protecting the needs of fishermen."

France is a signatory to the cetacean protection conventions and is committed to implementing concrete measures to minimize their catches. Scientists are concerned because dolphins are a sensitive species which are slow to reproduce their few offspring. By the time the decline in their population is visible, it is usually too late.

"Thirty years of meetings and discussions with the fisheries committees have led to the catastrophic situation we are in today. The time for discussion is over, there is an urgent need for action."

-Lamya Essemlali, President Sea Shepherd France
Photo by Sea Shepherd France.

Claims of the Fisheries Committee and the Ineffectiveness of the Pingers

The President of the Loire Fisheries Committee, José Jouneau, claims - and is routinely quoted without official verification - that this year all trawlers are equipped with pingers (acoustic repellents). However Sea Shepherd was informed by a reliable source that this is not the case, which we were able to verify in the field. The two trawler nets surveilled in February that contained dead dolphins had no pingers. And if there had been pingers, they would have proven their ineffectiveness.

Impunity for Poachers

The case of the dead dolphins is only the tip of the iceberg. Sea Shepherd has also documented trawlers fishing in the middle of the Rochebonne plateau on several occasions during our patrols, although this year trawlers are forbidden to trawl to allow the environment a recovery period. What controls and sanctions should be applied to these poachers? We filed a complaint against two of them we caught in the act of illegal fishing, one registered in Saint Nazaire and unloading at La Turballe, and the other registered in Les Sables d'Olonne. The two ships were poaching in the middle of the Rochebonne plateau without even bothering to shut off their AIS (automatic identification system), demonstrating an attitude of total impunity that reigns in the area.

Sam Simon's Visit and Press Conference in Bordeaux

The main patrol ship on Operation Dolphin Bycatch, the M/Y Sam Simon, will be in Bordeaux on Saturday and Sunday March 16th-17th. The ship will be open to visits and the public will be able to meet the crew and discuss the challenges and objectives of the mission. Read more about the event here (French).


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