In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time: Identifying Spatiotemporal Co-occurrence of Bycaught Common Dolphins and Fisheries in the Bay of Biscay (NE Atlantic) From 2010 to 2019
Frontiers in Marine Science
The first Unusual Mortality Event (UME) related to fishing activity along the Atlantic coast recorded by the French Stranding Network was in 1989: 697 small delphinids, mostly common dolphins, washed ashore, most of them with evidence of having been bycaught. Since then, UMEs of common dolphins have been observed nearly every year in the Bay of Biscay; unprecedented records were broken every year since 2016. The low and unequally distributed observation efforts aboard fishing vessels in the Bay
... of Biscay, as well as the lack of data on foreign fisheries necessitated the use of complementary data (such as stranding data) to elucidate the involvement of fisheries in dolphin bycatch. The aim of this work was to identify positive spatial and temporal correlations between the likely origins of bycaught stranded common dolphins (estimated from a mechanistic drift model) and fishing effort statistics inferred from Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data on vessels >12 m long. Fisheries whose effort correlated positively with dolphin mortality areas after 2016 included French midwater trawlers, French Danish seiners, French gillnetters, French trammel netters, Spanish bottom trawlers, and Spanish gillnetters. For the French fleet only, logbook declarations, sales, and surveys carried out by Ifremer were integrated into fishing effort data. Six fleets were active in common dolphin bycatch areas at least twice between 2016 and 2019: gillnetters fishing hake, trammel netters fishing anglerfish, bottom pair trawlers fishing hake, midwater pair trawlers fishing sea bass and hake, and Danish seiners fishing whiting. Except for changes in hake landings in some fisheries, there were no notable changes in total fishing effort practice (gear or target species) based on the data required by the ICES and Council of the European Union that could explain the large increase in stranded common dolphins recorded along the French Atlantic coast after 2016. Small scale or unrecorded changes could have modified interactions between common dolphins and fisheries, but could not be detected through mandatory data-calls. The recent increase in strandings of bycaught common dolphins could have been caused by changes in their distribution and/or ecology, or changes in fishery practices that were undetectable through available data.