A crucial resolution for the Indian Ocean, fiercely opposed by Franco-Spanish industrial fishers, was cancelled

After months of lobbying, the European Union has obtained the cancellation of a resolution crucial for marine protection, that was adopted last February in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

On 5 February this year, the coastal countries of the Indian Ocean pulled off a real tour de force, obtaining in extremis (by 16 votes out of 23, just above the two-thirds majority required) a first seasonal ban on “fish aggregating devices” (FADs) in the Indian Ocean, [1] involving the banning of FADs for 72 days every year. Similar bans are already implemented in all other oceans as a conservation measure and as a precautionary principle.

FADs are widely regarded as a serious threat to marine ecosystems around the world. Even industry representatives openly acknowledge that FADs have a catastrophic impact, as illustrated by Adrien de Chomereau, CEO of Sapmer – one of three French companies targeting tropical tuna – who has stated that “as few FADs as possible is the path of virtue“. [2]

But the tables have turned : right in the middle of summer, this absolutely crucial resolution has just been cancelled, following intense lobbying by the European Commission and the European tuna fishing lobbies, who did not hesitate to use lies and financial pressure to get this common-sense measure cancelled.

A necessary resolution fought by the European Union with all its might

From the start, this resolution was the source of incredible tensions and turnarounds, each more grotesque than the last. It all began on 3 February, when Kenya – which has been the main defender of this ban for years – was supposed to lead the battle for this ban during the IOTC special session in Mombasa (Kenya). However, the head of the Kenyan delegation unilaterally decided, during his introductory speech, to withdraw the proposal for a temporary ban on FADs, much to the surprise of the 11 co-signatories.

We learned shortly afterwards that Kenya was in fact under maximum pressure from the European Commission, which had put its economic partnership [3] on the line in exchange for the withdrawal of this resolution! The resolution was indeed not at all to the liking of European industrial fishers, whose catches depend almost exclusively on FADs in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives and Indonesia nonetheless took over the defense of the ban, and successfully obtained 16 votes out of 23, just enough to make the two-thirds majority required for the resolution to be adopted.

Unfortunately, as the IOTC is an emanation of the United Nations, a resolution adopted with the greatest respect for democratic processes… may not be binding for one country, or even for all countries, effectively cancelling it. If an IOTC member states does not wish to see a resolution applied to its fleets, it simply has to object within 120 days of its adoption. And if a third of the IOTC member states – i.e. 11 – object within 180 days [4] following the adoption of the resolution, the resolution is not binding for all member states.

Following the pressure of the European Union and Franco-Spanish’s private interests from day one, this is exactly what happened. A succession of objections has, since February, inevitably led to the cancellation of this much-needed resolution: the Comoros [5] and Oman [6] on 23 February, Kenya (which went from leader to opponent!) on 2 March, [7] the Seychelles on 17 March, [8] the Philippines on 21 March, [9] the European Union on 11 April, [10] France (which has voting rights independent from the European Union due to the Scattered islands in the Indian Ocean) on 14 April, [11] Tanzania on 24 May, [12] Mauritius on 24 July, [13] Thailand on 4 August, [14] and finally South Korea on 7 August. [15]

Omnipresent European interests

As we highlighted in our report “Lining up the ducks”, [16] these objections all have in common that they clearly bear the signature of French and Spanish tuna fishing interests. These cross-linkages are particularly obvious with the Seychelles, Mauritius and Thailand. The purse seine fleets of the first two states are fully owned by European interests. Futhermore, Seychelles and Mauritius are also home to the two main canneries in the region, which belong to the Thai multinational company Thai Union, and to Princes, which is jointly owned by IBL Group and Mitsubishi Corporation (which also partly owns Thai Union).

The supply of these canneries depends mainly on tuna caught by European vessels. The canned tuna is then exported to the European market, thanks to a customs agreement with the European Union setting customs duties at 0%. Last April, we showed the extent to which European private interests had infiltrated Seychelles’ governance, when documents put online by the Seychelles administration had not been anonymised and contained numerous comments made by the European tuna lobby. [17]

Intimately linked to European tuna vessels, the powerful Thai Union and Princes had publicly supported objections to the IOTC resolution on several occasions, and Thailand finally gave in by becoming one of the last countries to seal its fate, lodging the 10th and penultimate objection on 4 August 2023.

→ Read our report “Lining up the ducks” to find out about European industrial lobbies and their political allies in the tuna industry.

The battle continues

Faced with the omnipotence of the industrial lobbies and their political relays within the European Commission and the Council of the EU, BLOOM initiated two appeals against the objections of the European Union and France on 10 May. [18] We then asked these two European institutions and the Directorate general for Maritime affairs, Fisheries and Aquaculture (DGAMPA) to re-examine their decisions and to withdraw their objections lodged with the IOTC secretariat. Our appeals are still being examined, and if they are rejected, BLOOM will be obliged to lodge further appeals, this time with the Court of Justice of the European Union and the French Conseil d’État.

As long as these procedures are not closed, we call on the IOTC not to consider resolution 23/02 as cancelled, since the threshold of one third of objections will not have been reached.

To go further

Banning FADs: an absolute emergency

These rafts of death are the preferred fishing gear of French and Spanish vessels operating in the Indian Ocean to catch yellowfin tuna and bonito, the two tuna species most commonly found in canned tuna in France. Every year, FADs are responsible for the carnage of millions of tunas that have not yet had time to reproduce, as well as sea turtles and sharks, whose populations are extremely fragile. A number of particularly striking facts and figures demonstrate the weight of European fleets in this ecocidal fishing practice:

  • EU vessels currently account for around 95% of the tuna officially caught by FADs in the Indian Ocean; [19]
  • IOTC data shows that 93% of yellowfin tuna and 99% of bigeye tuna – two species considered to be overfished since 2015 [20] and 2022 [21] respectively – caught under FADs by EU vessels are juveniles and immature individuals, which have therefore not had offsprings yet. [22] Yvon Riva – former president of the French tuna fishing union Orthongel – admits without batting an eyelid: “It’s an observation we regret, but it’s the truth, there’s no denying it“, in response to the reporter Élise Lucet, pointing out that French fishers “catch 10-kilo fish, juveniles, that have not yet spawned, of a species that is overfished and overexploited“; [23]
  • Up to 10% of FAD-related catches involve non-target species, such as vulnerable and fragile species of sharks and turtles. Observers often report the capture of hundreds of sharks in a single fishing operation, almost all of which die before being thrown overboard;
  • It is estimated that 60% [24] to 90% [25] of FADs are abandoned or lost at sea, eventually washing up on shores, generating a massive source of marine pollution and posing a threat to marine life long after being used.


→ Read our latest report “Tuna  War Games”


[1] https://www.bloomassociation.org/en/first-decisive-step-to-protect-tuna-in-the-indian-ocean-despite-fierce-eu-opposition/.

[2] https://lemarinblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/22/la-reunion-les-voyants-sont-au-vert/.

[3] For years, Kenya has been highly dependent on the EU economically, first through substantial economic development aid, and then through trade relations (a fifth of Kenya’s exports now go to the EU). See: https://op.europa.eu/webpub/eca/special-reports/eu-development-aid-to-Kenya-14-2020/fr/ ; https://www.lesechos.fr/monde/enjeux-internationaux/le-kenya-et-lue-signent-un-important-accord-commercial-a-nairobi-1953498

[4] If an objection is made within the first 120 days, a further 60 days are given, in accordance with IOTC regulations.

[5] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/02/Circular_2023-11_-_Communication_from_ComorosE.pdf.

[6] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/02/Circular_2023-11_-_Communication_from_ComorosE.pdf.

[7] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/03/Circular_2023-14_-_Communication_from_KenyaE.pdf.

[8] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/03/Circular_2023-19_-_Communication_from_SeychellesE.pdf.

[9] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/03/Circular_2023-20_-_Communication_from_PhilippinesE.pdf.

[10] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/04/Circular_2023-26_-_Communication_from_the_European_UnionE.pdf.

[11] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/04/Circular_2023-28_-_Communication_from_FranceOTE.pdf.

[12] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/05/Circular_2023-35_-_Communication_from_United_Rep._of_TanzaniaE.pdf.

[13] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/07/Circular_2023-45_-_Communication_from_MauritiusE.pdf.

[14] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/08/Circular_2023-48_-_Communication_from_ThailandE.pdf.

[15] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2023/08/Circular_2023-49_-_Communication_from_KoreaE.pdf

[16] https://bloomassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Lining-up-the-ducks_EN.pdf.

[17] https://www.bloomassociation.org/en/tuna-fishing-lobbies-caught-red-handed/.

[18] https://www.bloomassociation.org/en/appeal-iotc-objections/.

[19] IOTC data, available at : https://iotc.org/data/datasets.

[20] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/science/species_summaries/english/4_Yellowfin2021E.pdf.

[21] https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2022/10/IOTC-2022-WPTT24-10.pdf.

[22] Catch size data published by the IOTC. Available at https://iotc.org/data/datasets. Data for French and Spanish purse seiners, 2020-2021.

[23] “Pêche industrielle : gros poissons en eaux troubles”. Cash investigation (France 2). Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRvNZ5OqQac.

[24] Imzilen et al (2022) Recovery at sea of abandoned, lost or discarded drifting fish aggregating devices. Available here: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00883-y.

[25] Churchill (2021) Just a harmless fishing FAD – Or does the use of FADs contravene international marine pollution law? Available here: https://doi.org/10.1080/00908320.2021.1901342

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