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Monsieur Didier GUILLAUME, Ministre de l'Agriculture et de l'Alimentation et M. François DE RUGY, Ministre d'État, ministre de la Transition écologique et solidaire

With a low estimate of 3,500 dolphins killed each year along the French Atlantic coast and up to 10,000 for the highest estimates, French waters have become a mass grave for dolphins in Europe. Even for the lowest estimates, these figures are larger than the bloody massacres of the Faroe Islands and Taiji (Japan) combined.

A massacre hidden by the State and the Committee on Fisheries since the 1990s.

Although the general public is largely unaware of the problem, the Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries and Ecological Transition are well aware of these dolphin catches, which are so numerous that, according to the Pélagis scientific observatory, they endanger the survival of dolphin populations along the French coast. Pelagic trawlers have been identified by scientists for 30 years as the main culprits of dolphin mortality on the Atlantic coast.

The Outlaw State

Whilst a European directive makes cetacean by-catch reporting mandatory, this was not transcribed into French law until 2011 and effective enforcement is still impossible in 2018 because the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries refuses to appoint an independent body responsible for collecting this data. A bit like asking citizens to declare their taxes while refusing to set up a public treasury. By doing so, the Ministry (DPMA) voluntarily maintains opacity around dolphin mortality.

Murky Measurements in the Ministry: the Log Book and the OBSMER Program

The Ministries of Agriculture and Ecological Transition published a press release on February 28th, 2018, outlining their solutions for better monitoring of the catches. But once again, we are talking about token measures that have been known for years to be ineffective.

1: Dolphin catch reports by captains’ Log Books are a way of hiding the problem. Imagine that drivers are told to download an application on their phones that allows them to report their own speeding violations themselves. The Gendarmes would certainly conclude that there is never any speeding in France.

2: The OBSMER program, which is supposed to bring observers on board fishing vessels. Unless completely modified, OBSMER will never be able to report the actual situation. Firstly, because it is based on the goodwill of the fishing manager, who can refuse an observer or choose his trips at sea (only 5% of fishing activities are monitored). But also because on-board observers are rarely in conditions that allow them to work peacefully. Several observers told us that they had been the victims of threats and that they had witnessed illegal activities on board certain vessels, falsified declarations, catches of protected species and were unable to freely testify to them because of the pressure and intimidation exerted against them. 

In the absence of public pressure, scientific alerts will continue to arrive dead in the water.


“Mortality estimates provided by stranding indicate mortality above the sustainable population threshold” (Laran et al. 2016) In 2017, following the stranding of 800 dolphins in one and a half months on the Atlantic coast, Hélène Peltier of the Pélagis Observatory stated in the press: "The situation is extremely worrying and we sound the alarm about the prospects for the conservation of the common dolphin on the Atlantic coast, a species that reproduces slowly".


To what extent can "accidental" catches that are predictable and avoidable be qualified as "accidental"?

Dolphins are a species protected by various agreements: Bern Convention, Bonn Convention, IUCN Red List, and CITES Appendix II. Yet they are being mass killed with methods that have been known to have had an impact for many years. In addition, once caught in the nets, the surviving dolphins pulled onboard are finished off on the deck of the vessels.

Acoustic methods of repelling dolphin (pingers) were developed by IFREMER with convincing results from 2004 onwards. By 2018, trawlers identified as responsible for dolphin bycatch are still not equipped.

We demand 4 concrete measures so that our children can still see dolphins in France tomorrow:

1. The prohibition of trawl fishing on sea bass spawning grounds and in any area identified by scientists as home to a high concentration of cetaceans.

2. The obligation for all vessels whose fishing methods have been identified as at-risk for cetaceans to be equipped with acoustic repulsion devices (pingers)

3. The appointment of PELAGIS or another scientific observatory as the body empowered to receive cetacean catch data declarations

4. The redesign of the OBSMER program to make it mandatory, while ensuring that on-board observers can work efficiently and without threat of reprisal.