So long, and thanks for all the fish

Dolphin sightings in the Bay of Biscay are down by around 80% according to the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme. Is this due to a reduction in fish stocks, and is this in turn linked to climate change?

The Bay of Biscay is a bit of a special place for me as its where I had one of my best wildlife viewing experiences. Four (long!) days aboard a ferry on a round trip from Portsmouth to Bilbao were rewarded with a great sighting of a fin whale. And the dolphins numbers we saw were huge…in the hundreds.

So where have all the dolphins gone? Seabird sightings have also declined say Marinelife’s Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) who have been conducting surveys on the P&O ferry "The Pride of Bilbao" for the last 13 years. They are worried that the decline could be more wide-ranging than that indicated by their surveys, and may suggest that fish stocks have either become depleted due to over-fishing or have changed in distribution due to temperature changes. They go on to mention the failure of anchovy fisheries (at an all-time low Biscay anchovies are now on the Marine Conservation Society’s fish to avoid list [my apologies here for previously stating this list was complied by the Marine Stewardship Council – many thanks for the feedback]) but are there other factors also involved in the decline?

If over-fishing is the problem, as reduction in numbers of higher predators perhaps suggests, then is a change in consumer behaviour required? It’s all very well for me to say this as I’m not a Spanish fisherman whose livelihood depends on what is available and allowed from the sea. But could former fishery workers turn their skills towards aquaculture?

And what about the tourism generated by the presence of dolphins in Biscay? Next time I make the Portsmouth to Bilbao trip I hope the dolphins are back – it just wouldn’t be the same without them.

Note: I borrowed my blog title from the late Douglas Adams who himself was a great proponent of environmental awareness with his Hitchiker series and Last Chance To See which he co-authored with zoologist Mark Carwardine.

More on dolphins and tourism from CABI

The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments
Edited by M Lück, AUT University Auckland, New Zealand

Leisure Tourism Database
‘In brief and in depth’ section covers effects of tourism on dolphins, tourism generated by cetaceans, etc.

At this point I would also direct you to the work of the FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Dept. and their publications which include The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture.

One thought on “So long, and thanks for all the fish

  1. AB August 31, 2007 / 11:56 am

    If you’re concerned about overfishing you should look for the blue eco-label of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)when buying fish and seafood. This shows that the seafood has come from a fishery that has been independently certified as sustainable. See http://www.msc.org for more information.

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