A rare victory for the ocean threatened by France and Spain

Victories are rare for the ocean. On 5 February this year, one was secured though, wrestled out from the jaws of the EU’s harmful lobbying. On that day, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission adopted, for the first time, a 72-day annual ban on the highly-sophisticated objects that are deployed on a large scale in the Indian Ocean by French and Spanish industrial fishing fleets to aggregate and catch tropical tuna, down to the last fish. These floating and drifting rafts, known as ‘FADs’ for ‘fish aggregating devices’, are responsible for the capture of huge numbers of juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna – two species considered overfished – as well as many fragile species of marine animals such as turtles and sharks. This measure exists elsewhere in the world, specifically for conserving fish stocks. But the European Union is now threatening this absolutely crucial first step for the regeneration of the Indian Ocean’s health, which undergoes relentless pressure from industrial fishers, primarily French and Spanish, targeting tuna in these waters.

It is therefore for the sake of the only two European tuna fishing nations – France and Spain – that the European Commission will decide in a few days’ time whether or not it will object to the annual prohibition on drifting FADs, despite the fact that banning these technological rafts is an indispensable measure to protect overexploited tuna populations and marine ecosystems impacted by non-selective and unsustainable industrial fishing.

Tuna fishing is carried out off the coast of West Africa and in the Indian Ocean by about 50 French and Spanish vessels averaging over 80 meters in length.

> Read our press release following the decision in the Indian Ocean <

An EU objection would be a denial of democracy

According to the rules of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, the State objecting to a measure does not have to apply it to its own fleets. In other words, if the EU objects to the IOTC prohibition, the ban on FADs will become useless as these fatal rafts for biodiversity are mainly used by European vessels. The fact that the European Commission is considering using the objection procedure shows its contempt for democratic processes in fisheries management. It is worth recalling that the FAD ban was adopted on Sunday 5 February by 16 of the 23 countries present at the IOTC meeting in Mombasa, Kenya.

The European Commission’s objection procedure must be approved by the Council of EU Member States. If this is the choice made, it would mean that the EU is assuming a very brutal neo-colonial and anti-democratic position towards the Global South, explains Frédéric Le Manach, Scientific Director of BLOOM. In addition to being in total contradiction with the EU’s environmental objectives, such a decision would deeply damage North-South relations. We find it hard to believe that the EU would so openly stand by its toxic links with the environmentally destructive fishing industry.’

120 dangerous days

The European Union has 120 days to object the resolution adopted by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. After a statement to this effect by Mr Marco Valletta, head of the European delegation, during his last speech on 5 February in Mombasa, the possibility of an objection was reaffirmed by the European Commission through Mr Emmanuel Berck(1) in response to a question asked on 6 February 2023 by MEP Caroline Roose.(2) The same MEP co-signed a letter of inquiry(3) with four other Greens/EFA MEPs (Rosa d’Amato, Francisco Guerreiro, Grace O’Sullivan, and Marie Toussaint), but this letter has not yet received a response.

The EU must support a permanent ban on all drifting FADs

In a letter sent on Monday 20 February to the Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, BLOOM formally asks the Commission to not only drop its objection, but to also support the only measure that makes sense in the long term: a total and permanent ban on drifting FADs. This was also the request made by many stakeholders such as India, which had tabled such a proposal in the framework of the IOTC negotiations at the beginning of February,(4) as well as the artisanal fishers of the Reunion Island and the Seychelles, who are strongly advocating for it.(5)

Reminding the EU of its duty and exploring links with lobbies

One of the fundamental objectives of the ‘Common Fisheries Policy’ (CFP) is that fishing activities contribute to ‘long-term environmental sustainability’. It is worth reminding European institutions that CFP objectives apply to European fleets wherever they operate in the world. By defending only the interests of industrialists whose practices are destructive to the environment, the Commission seems to be losing sight of its mission to defend the general interest.

In order to clarify the frequency and nature of the links between the institutions and lobbies, BLOOM has just made a request for the communication of all exchanges, at all levels of function, that may have taken place between individuals in the European Commission involved in IOTC and fishing agreements’ negotiations, and the management of tropical tuna fisheries in general, with the Orthongel, Cepesca, Opagac, Anabac, Europêche, and UAPF lobbies, as well as with all members of these structures (e.g. CFTO, Sapmer, Albacora, Echebastar, etc.).(6)

Citizens have the right to understand what is driving the detrimental positions of their institutions when they jeopardize the future of the ocean, marine life and the climate.

Find out more

Tuna is the most consumed fish in France, with almost 4 kg/person/year.(7) Yet it is not bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), the emblematic species in the Mediterranean, which is the most consumed, but tropical species: mainly bonito (Katsuwonus pelamis) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares), as well as bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), which is caught in smaller proportions by the same vessels.

European tropical tuna fishing takes place mainly in the Indian Ocean, to a lesser extent in the Atlantic Ocean, and marginally in the Pacific Ocean. The vessels involved are exclusively French and Spanish and average over 80m in length, going up to 116m. In France, three companies are grouped together in the Orthongel union and own 23 vessels. In Spain, the landscape is more fragmented, with two unions – OPAGAC and ANABAC – grouping together some 15 fishing companies with 27 vessels. In addition to these vessels, there are at least(8)  48 vessels that are flagged outside of the EU, but which are mostly Spanish-owned (only three are French-owned).

The fishing method used by these vessels is called ‘purse seining’, which consists of a vertical net nearly 2km long and 300m high that is deployed around the tuna school with the help of a small support vessel. The seine is then closed from below with a sliding system, allowing the entire school to be caught. Almost all catches by European purse seiners are now made using drifting Fish Aggregating Devices (d-FADs), which generate huge quantities of juvenile tuna, but also of non-target species such as sea turtles, sharks, rays, etc. This problem is particularly significant in the Indian Ocean, where three figures summarize the scale of the FAD problem:

  • EU tuna companies made 96% of their catches under d-FADs in 2018 in the Indian Ocean (where they are one of the major players in industrial fishing and the almost exclusive user of drifting FADs);(9)
  • 97% of yellowfin tuna (an overfished species) caught by European purse seiners in the Indian Ocean between 2015 and 2019 were juveniles;(10)
  • 77% of all juvenile bigeye tuna (another overfished species) caught in the Indian Ocean came from seine fishing.(11)

As French and Spanish purse seiners are major players in industrial tuna fishery in the Indian Ocean and their catches are mainly composed of juveniles, they therefore play a major role in the degradation of marine ecosystems and the overfishing of two of the three target species, yellowfin and bigeye tuna.

A very problematic case of job transfer

On 14 November 2022, alongside the anti-corruption NGO Anticor, we revealed the case of the transfer of a career officer from the Maritime Affairs administration – Mrs Anne-France Mattlet – to a post within the powerful tuna lobbies, without respecting the three-year time period provided for by law. We have reported this case to the Public Prosecutor of the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office.

→ Read our investigation file: The Wild West of tuna fisheries in Africa

European delegations in the hands of lobbies

The toxic influence of lobbies is not limited to France or Brussels. Following our first revelations on the Mattlet case, we have continued to dive into the opaque world of tuna fishing. On 11 January 2023, we revealed the shocking results of a new study on the influence of lobbyists in official delegations during twenty years of negotiations on tropical tuna in Africa, between 2002 and 2022.

→ Read our investigation file: The EU under the rule of tuna lobbies


  • The Washington Post (available via The Seattle Times), ‘Indian Ocean species caught between local, EU interests’, 23/02/02
  • AP News, ‘New Indian Ocean fishing rules in big win for coastal states’, 23/02/06
  • The Guardian, ‘Deal to curb harmful fishing devices a ‘huge win’ for yellowfin tuna stocks’, 23/02/08
  • Reporterre, ‘Dans les océans une technique de pêche ravage les populations de thons’, 23/02/03
  • Mongabay, ‘Critics allege EU’s ‘toxic collusion’ with fishing lobbies is damaging Indian Ocean tuna’, 23/02/07
  • Ouest France, ‘Bataille du thon dans l’océan Indien. L’Indonésie monte au filet et remporte une manche’, 23/02/07
  • The East African, ‘Kenya falls back on destructive fishing gear ban’, 23/02/11


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