- Corpses of dolphins and turtles have recently been floating onto the southern beaches of Mauritania. The recently discovered mass death of these protected species is attributed to escalating bycatches by fishing vessels operating off Mauritania.
The recent discovery on the beaches of Mauritania of more than 200 dolphins and turtles, some of which had clearly been killed by entanglement in fishing nets, "fuels the need for urgent action to combat the world's growing bycatch problem," according to the environmental group IUCN.
A scientific mission of IUCN's Mauritania office had found a total of 230 dead dolphins and at least one pilot whale, as well as the threatened hawksbill and leatherback turtles on the southern beaches of Mauritania - between Nouakchott, the capital, and the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis. Mission participants had thus alerted the Mauritanian Institute of Oceanographic Research and Fisheries (IMROP) which is now carrying out an investigation into the mass mortality.
- Although the cause of death has not yet been confirmed, because of the mixture of species found and the fact that some were entangled in sections of fishing nets, it is likely that these animals were killed as bycatch. Unfortunately this is not the first such incident, said Dr Jean-Christophe Vié, of IUCN's Species Programme.
According to Mr Vié, "fishing bycatch events are regularly reported from the west coast of Africa and are having a disastrous effect on populations of marine species."
Worldwide, both marine and freshwater cetacean (dolphins, whales and porpoises) populations are affected by the continued expansion of fishing effort including into previously unexploited areas, the rise in shipping traffic, increasing development along rivers, coasts and estuaries, and rising pollution.
The incident in Mauritania comes at a time when the issue of bycatch and its critical impact on marine life is gaining increasing global attention, according to a statement by IUCN. The recently-released Cetacean Action Plan produced by IUCN's Species Survival Commission (SSC) states that of the barrage of threats facing the world's cetaceans, fishery bycatch is becoming increasingly serious and widespread.
- There is an urgent need to develop alternative fishing gear and practices, and implement immediate mitigation measures ranging from fishery closures to the mandatory use of acoustic deterrents to keep animals away from nets, the group's statement reads.
In June, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) had adopted the Berlin Initiative which expands the conservation activities of the Commission to address wider threats to cetaceans such as bycatch, ship strikes, and habitat destruction.
Recently, the IUCN and its partners have announced the launch of a euro 30 million strategy to protect West Africa's coasts and seas. Ten Ministers of Environment and Fisheries from Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal thus approved the new 'Regional Strategy for Marine Protected Areas in West Africa'.
Approximately 60 percent of the 22 million people in the six countries of West Africa live on the coast and depend mostly on fisheries. "As well as threatening biodiversity, overfishing threatens local livelihoods," the group says. In particular the European Union, but also Japan, have been repeatedly criticised for overfishing in West African waters.
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