Now international marine conservation movement Sea Shepherd, which makes the claim, has launched a campaign called Operation Dolphin By-Catch to alert the public to the problem.

In the peak period, the first three months of each year, 6000 dolphins on average are killed off France’s west coast by trawlers, often fishing in pairs, says Sea Shepherd – and that number could be as high as 10,000, according to the Pelagis Observatory.

La Rochelle-based Pelagis has been warning about declining dolphin populations and the threat to their survival for some years. The French government has ignored the warnings, says Sea Shepherd, which claims that the fisheries are playing on public ignorance.

French trawlers are targeting sea-bass spawning grounds during the breeding season, so also threaten sea-bass populations, while the many dolphins caught in the nets either drown or, if pulled up alive, tend to die from wounds inflicted by trawler crews.

Last weekend (24-25 February), Sea Shepherd’s patrol vessel Bob Barker filmed the trawlers Jeremi Simon and Promethée pulling up nets with two dolphins trapped inside.

“One of the dolphins seemed already drowned but the other, still alive, emitted whistles of distress that can be heard on the video. Instead of discarding the dolphins back into the water in front of the Sea Shepherd crew, the two dolphins were brought aboard one of the two vessels,” say the campaigners.

Fisheries are legally required to declare dolphin bycatch, but this is not monitored because France has not designated a regulatory body to receive the data.

According to Sea Shepherd, Pelagis is qualified for the role but has no authorisation. It also says that funds set aside to develop more selective fishing techniques remain unallocated.

Sea Shepherd France President Lamya Essemlali has called on the government to prohibit trawlers from fishing in sea-bass spawning grounds; to establish better monitoring of fisheries and prevent the sale of juvenile fish; and to designate a qualified body such as Pelagis to monitor dolphin by-catch data. He also recommends the public to eat less fish, or to avoid the undersized and those that have not been line-caught.

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