To protect the dolphins, French and foreign fishermen in the Bay of Biscay will be suspended from working in the port for a month, the first time this has happened since 1945, to the dismay of an industry that fears "social breakdown" despite compensation payments.

The French government has officially announced the extension of the measure, ordered at the end of December by the Council of State, while promising to support all industry players.

In a situation not seen since World War II, fishing will be effectively halted until February 20 from Finistère to the Spanish border.

This "spatial and temporal closure," described by environmental associations as "historic," is intended to reduce the number of deaths of small cetaceans accidentally caught in nets.

Ciem, a leading international scientific body, estimates that around 9 000 common dolphins are killed each year on France's Atlantic coast by accidental catch, compared to a maximum sustainable level of 4 900 deaths.

A ban on fishing by vessels longer than eight meters and on certain fisheries, which will also be in place in 2025 and 2026, will result in 450 French vessels being docked.

France's National Fisheries Committee (CNPMEM) condemned "extremist NGOs" defending a species, the common dolphin, which it said "is not endangered in the sector".


In a circular sent to shipowners in Brittany, the authorities speak of compensation of about 80 % of the fishing companies' turnover. This amounts to a bill of several tens of millions of euros.

However, Franck Lalande, owner of two vessels in Arcachon (Gironde), fears that "there will be a lot of layoffs". Vice-president of the Regional Committee for Fisheries of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, he regrets that the compensation is inadequate and therefore "unacceptable".

Fishermen are also concerned about delays in payments

Julien Lamothe, director of the producers' organization FROM Sud-Ouest, denounces the "relentless attack on the industry" with this "new restriction that affects businesses, some of which have a difficult cash flow situation".

And the whole industry is concerned: in La Rochelle, shippers and fishmongers were busy early in the morning working around crates of shrimp, gurnard and sea bream for the last week of activity.

Pascal Bouillot, director of the United Syndicate of Fishing Ports of La Rochelle, says that "55 % of the tonnage and turnover of the respective auctions was lost during this period, as these are extremely busy months".

During the closure of auctions, wholesalers will have to seek fish caught elsewhere, with the risk of their buyers finding other sources of supply and the likely inflationary effect on the end consumer.

Overall, this is a complex issue where the interests of two important groups collide: fishermen and environmentalists. The decision taken by the French government is an attempt to find a balance between these interests. However, the question remains whether it will be effective and whether it can ensure a sustainable future for both parties.


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