Government Reinforces French Action Plan to Assess and Reduce Accidental Small Cetacean Captures in the Bay of Biscay

In the realm of marine conservation and coastal affairs, significant strides have been taken to strengthen the French action plan aimed at addressing accidental captures of small cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay. This comprehensive plan is set to span from 2024 to 2026 and comes as a response to a pivotal decision by the Council of State on March 20, 2023.

Bolstering the Action Plan for 2024-2026

Following the Council of State’s decision in March 2023, the French Government is intensifying its emergency action plan, which was initially launched in the fall of 2022. The objective is to reduce accidental captures of small cetaceans, including common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and harbor porpoises, in the Bay of Biscay over a three-year period from 2024 to 2026.

This enhanced action plan, crafted after extensive consultations, introduces a series of robust measures designed to curtail accidental captures of small cetaceans and enhance our scientific understanding of their interactions with fishing activities in the Bay of Biscay. These measures include:

  • Unprecedented Spatial-Temporal Fishing Closures: For the first time, a substantial 30-day fishing closure will be implemented to mitigate interactions during the peak period of known accidental captures.
  • Scaling Up Technical Devices: The large-scale experimentation of technical devices to effectively reduce accidental captures and ensure the long-term coexistence of fishermen and small cetaceans.
  • Enhanced At-Sea Monitoring: Increased observation of interactions at sea through the deployment of observers, onboard cameras, and satellite tracking of fishing activity.
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France’s Commitment to Reduce Accidental Captures

France aims to reduce accidental captures by combining spatial-temporal closures and an unprecedented deployment of technical devices intended to ensure a lasting reduction in accidental captures. The goal is to maintain the well-being of small cetaceans by reducing mortalities to an acceptable level.

Significant Advances in Cetacean Protection

Based on current scientific knowledge, the fishing closure will encompass the entire Bay of Biscay, an expansive area covering 188,500 km2. This closure applies to more than 75% of French waters in the Atlantic-Manche region.

The 30-day closure will be in effect from January 22 to February 20, a period historically recognized as having a high risk of accidental captures of small cetaceans. All net and trawl fisheries at risk of interactions, including pelagic trawls and ground gear, are affected by this measure, impacting nearly 600 French vessels.

Simultaneously, the deployment of technical devices continues to expand to encompass all fishing activities involving identified gear, thus ensuring the long-term reduction of accidental captures. Three primary devices will be deployed on seine netters, building on encouraging initial experimental results and also serving to reduce underwater noise:

  • “Repellent” Pingers: Attached to the hull of the vessel, emitting only when the net is deployed.
  • “Informative” Acoustic Beacons: Affixed to the nets, utilizing bio-inspired signals.
  • Passive Acoustic Reflectors: Added to straight nets, enhancing net visibility to dolphins.

To avoid hampering the assessment of these technical devices and the improvement of knowledge during the high-risk period, vessels equipped with these technical devices and/or onboard cameras will be exempt from spatial-temporal closures in 2024. This exemption encompasses all vessels equipped with technical devices contributing to the reduction of accidental small cetacean captures.

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These measures also extend to foreign vessels operating in the Bay of Biscay, as the French government has engaged in consultations with other member states. This regional consultation aims to enhance the effectiveness and fairness of measures taken at the French level.

Deepening Scientific Knowledge, Monitoring, and Control

To better monitor accidental captures and assess the effectiveness of technical devices, the government sets an ambitious target of covering 10% of the fishing effort of at-risk fishing gear.

Additionally, onboard cameras will be installed on willing vessels, with the aim of equipping a substantial number of seine netters (100 vessels) and all at-risk trawlers (40 vessels) by the end of 2024.

Mandatory reporting of accidental captures by fishing industry professionals remains vital.

All these measures aim to improve our understanding of the risks of small cetacean mortality due to accidental captures and to assess the effectiveness of technical devices beginning in late 2024.

These developments and the DELMOGES scientific research project are intended to best tailor sustainable measures to reduce accidental small cetacean captures in the Bay of Biscay.

A strengthened control plan will be in place starting in winter 2023-2024, employing maritime affairs resources to ensure compliance with regulatory obligations, including spatial-temporal closures.