At the end of February, Emmanuel Macron had admitted the need for the France to "improve (its) practices" to better protect dolphins, a considerable number of which are trapped in the nets of fishermen before coming to wash up on the beaches of the Atlantic coast.

The Council of State had been seized in 2021 by several environmental associations - France Nature Environment (FNE), Sea Shepherd France and the Association for the Defense of Aquatic Environments (DMA) - who called for suspensions of fishing in the Atlantic.

The highest administrative court therefore agreed with them and granted the government six months to implement these bans.

They must be in addition to the "acoustic deterrent devices by fishing boats that have already been deployed," the court said.

"This is of course an important day for all those who love the sea and the few people who have invested their lives in this fight," DMA said.

Sea Shepherd France called the decision a "historic victory." "The government is forced to close the most destructive fisheries," said the NGO, which recalls that "this winter again a new intense episode of mortality of common dolphins is observed".

Maximum limit exceeded

According to the LPO, "nearly 1,000 cetacean corpses have been found on the Atlantic coast since December".

Activists from the environmental association Sea Shepherd deposit bloodied corpses of dolphins in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg © on March 14, 2023 Frederick FLORIN / AFP

"The Council of State finally puts an end to the odious agony of dolphins" as it did for "glue trapping (hunting birds using glue, Editor's note), traditional hunts and many other issues that participated in the mistreatment of biodiversity," welcomed the president of the LPO, Allain Bougrain-Dubourg.

In a report published in early February, the Pelagis Observatory, which has been recording cetacean strandings on the Atlantic coast since 1970, points out that the dolphin population in the North-East Atlantic has been decreasing for several years and "could become extinct within 40 to 50 years" if nothing is done.

Pelagis estimated the dolphin population at around 200,000 individuals in 2011/12. In 2020, 1,299 common dolphins were found dead on French shores, a figure that fell to 669 in 2022.

But, knowing that more than 80% of dead dolphins sink or decompose at sea rather than run aground, annual mortality on the Atlantic coasts is estimated between 8,000 and 11,000 individuals.

Activists from the environmental association Sea Shepherd dispose of dolphin corpses on the forecourt of the Trocadero in Paris on January 14, 2020 © BERTRAND GUAY / AFP/Archives

According to the Council of State, the number of dolphin deaths by incidental capture in the Bay of Biscay "exceeds each year the maximum limit to ensure a favourable conservation status in the North-East Atlantic".

"The system for monitoring incidental catches remains insufficient to know their extent even more precisely," he also notes.

He therefore ordered additional measures "to make it possible to estimate more accurately the number of annual catches of small cetaceans" and to continue "the strengthening of the observation system at sea".

© 2023 AFP