19 January 2015
Intermarché’s betrayal on deep-sea fishing
19 January 2015
A year ago, after having bitterly fought and sabotaged the European Parliament’s vote on the ban of deep-sea bottom trawling, the group Intermarché “reached out” to NGOs – especially BLOOM – which had exposed their destructive deep-sea fishing practices, notably via the viral cartoon by French illustrator Pénélope Bagieu. This comic strip sparked incredible craze for BLOOM’s petition, with nearly 900,000 signatures collected to date against deep-sea bottom trawling.
From this discussion between Intermarché and the NGOs, the group’s fleet (Scapêche) decided to stop dragging its nets beyond 800 meters deep (January 2014). “Still too deep, due to the extreme vulnerability of these fragile marine environments hosting slow-growing organisms with an extreme life-expectancy, but better than nothing,” according to Claire Nouvian, founder of the organization dedicated to protecting the oceans and sustainable fishing activities. Thus, BLOOM welcomed this step forward from Intermarché, in return for its implicit commitment to no longer block the European regulation on the ban of deep-sea bottom trawling in European waters.
But Intermarché’s double dealing is now bursting into the open. While Intermarché was neutralizing the NGOs’ opposition to its fleet, it was supporting the industrial fishing lobby “BLUE FISH”, made up by the most fervent advocates of industrial fishing in Lorient and Boulogne-sur-Mer and a few EU member States where BLUE FISH managed to secure support for its lobbying efforts in favor of bottom trawling, including in Scotland. This industrial lobby managed to break the Minister of Ecology Ségolène Royal’s will to ban deep-sea bottom trawling and also won Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ support to continue an economically absurd, heavily subsidized and ecologically destructive fishing activity.
Today, there is no ambiguity with regards to Intermarché’s strategy: the group announced last week that its fleet, Scapêche, was now trying to get its deep-sea fish catches (blue ling, black scabbardfish, roundnose grenadier) certified as a “sustainable fishery” by the MSC label (Marine Stewardship Council). “Yet another attempt from Intermarché to fool French people“, judges Claire Nouvian. They turned towards the MSC label, whose credibility is already weakened due to the certification of controversial large industrial bottom trawl fisheries and which risks to shatter for good if the fishing methods that are widely considered by researchers as “the most destructive in history” are deemed ‘sustainable’ by the MSC. Data from the French research Institute “IFREMER” also revealed in July 2014 the substantial impact of deep-sea bottom trawling on populations of endangered deep-sea sharks. 
The certification process of Intermarché’s deep-sea fisheries can last more than a year. “BLOOM will formally oppose this MSC certification and will commit whatever necessary resources to ensure that such a fraud does not occur“, says Claire Nouvian.
“Intermarché is investing in marketing and communication resources instead of committing to convert its fleet to truly virtuous and sustainable fishing practices“, says BLOOM’s founder. Indeed, MSC certification costs range from 1,000 to 15,000€ for pre-assessments and from 11,000 to 150,000€ for a full evaluation. “They fooled us for a year, promising that they had nothing to do with the intense industrial lobbying against the European proposal to ban deep-sea bottom trawling. They used the truce with the NGOs as an opportunity to try to greenwash their unacceptable fisheries. Meanwhile, they continued to dictate the French position on the deep-sea regulation. They have just proven that they are not trustworthy.”
In the end, the peace between Intermarché and BLOOM was only a short-lived truce. In the nets of Intermarché, there are now a compromised government and a label which risks losing its remaining credibility…
Sources: Christian et al. (2013) Biological Conservation 161: 10-17; Relot et Caillart (2009) Éthique et Economique 6(2): 1-7.