The mass deaths have alarmed animal welfare groups, who say proposals to help save the dolphins are not sufficient.
Industrial fishing has been blamed for a record 1,100 dolphins washing up on beaches in France so far this year – often in a mutilated state. More of the dead mammals have been found in the first three months of 2019 than in the entirety of last year, which was already a record-breaker. The mass deaths have alarmed animal welfare groups and prompted French ecology minister Francois De Rugy to launch a national plan. Activists say fishermen often cut body parts off the suffocated dolphins after they are pulled up in their nets, in a bid to save their equipment. The ecology minister, under pressure to act as President Emmanuel Macron continues to champion pro-environment policies, has pledged to bolster research into existing repellent devices in use off the Bay of Biscay – an industrial fishing hub in the Atlantic Ocean. When activated, the devices send unpleasant signals to nearby dolphins that cause them to swim away and hopefully avoid coming to harm. But animal rights group Sea Shepherd has said his measures do not go far enough, claiming that many fishermen are reluctant to use the repellent devices in case they scare off valuable fish as well. It also said increasing the number of repellent devices is not a long-term solution, as it would make the oceans an uninhabitable drum of noise pollution for all mammals and fish. Group president Lamya Essemlali said: “The government needs to take responsibility and act – especially Macron, who said he wanted to protect ecology.
“The spotlight has been put on the trawlers that fish for sea bass, which is a scandal. But they were not the only ones responsible.”
Trawlers are struggling to cope with an unprecedented demand for low-cost fish, which has made fishing for catches like sea bass and hake a vital operation for those in the trade. She suggested that aggressive hake fishing, which was given the green light three years ago after long ban, was a major factor. The spike in dolphin deaths also began three years ago. Sea Shepherd explained the ecological crisis as stemming from unprecedented demand for low-cost fish. “Right now, the sea bass that is being caught by the trawlers that kill dolphins, you can find on the French market for eight euros-per-kilo ($4-per-pound)”. Global seafood consumption has more than doubled in the past 50 years, according to European Commission, a rate that rights groups have branded unsustainable.