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France’s highest administrative court has ordered the government to ban fishing in parts of the Atlantic to protect dolphins.

The move by the Council of State, the highest court in state affairs, came days after the oceanographic institute reported that at least 910 dolphins had washed up on France’s Atlantic coast since the start of winter.

In one week, more than 400 marine mammals were found along the coast, an “unprecedented” number, according to a report by the Pelagis Oceanographic Observatory, based in the western city of La Rochelle.

Several environmental NGOs, including Sea Shepherd, have filed a lawsuit against the government over the deaths of dolphins and porpoises. They said it does not do enough to protect endangered species from parts of the Bay of Biscay along the Atlantic coast.

Most of the dolphins found showed injuries consistent with being caught in nets, other fishing gear or boat engines.

Many have died in February and March, when dolphins typically approach the coast in search of food and are most likely to come into contact with fishing operations.

Activists stand next to four dead dolphins they laid out on the cobblestones outside the French parliament in Paris, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, to call for safer fishing practices to protect dolphins from fatal encounters with fishing nets. AP – Christophe Enna

The French government has so far refrained from imposing a fishing ban, opting instead for solutions that mitigate the impact of industrial fishing on dolphins, such as on-board cameras or loud sound equipment to scare the dolphins away.

But on Monday, the State Council ruled that “acoustic deterrent” devices on fishing boats “do not guarantee a favorable conservation status for small cetacean species,” including dolphins and porpoises.

Both species are threatened with extinction, “at least regionally,” the report said.

The court gave the government six months to establish no-fishing zones and ordered increased monitoring of dolphin bycatch, which it said was too rough.

(from the AFP)