Alarming disinformation at the heart of French institutions

Paris, March 11, 2016

During the French parliamentary debate on the “Blue Economy” bill at the National Assembly on 2 and 3 February 2016, the Secretary of State for Fisheries and some French MPs have put forward tremendously optimistic figures about the health of fish stocks to reject important measures seeking to restore fish populations in European waters and to prohibit the most destructive fishing method of all, deep-sea bottom trawling.[1]. Alain Vidalies, the Secretary of State for Fisheries proclaimed: “we are now with 70% of species at maximum sustainable yield“.

Alain Vidalies, French Secretary of State for Transport, Sea and Fishing

Alain Vidalies, French Secretary of State for Transport, Sea and Fishing

Totally false figures

If this were the reality of marine resources, there would indeed be cause for celebration. Unfortunately, after compiling and analyzing all the scientific advice produced by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES)[2] and available for the year 2015, BLOOM highlights a much more dire reality: only 18% of European fish stocks are caught at an intensity which – over time – could potentially achieve sustainability (so called “maximum sustainable yield”). As to being able to determine how many stocks have already reached sustainability for sure, this figure cannot be evaluated because the information needed to make these calculations is not published by ICES. This extreme caution does not bode well for the health of fish stocks…

What is the source of such serious disinformation?

How can a member of the government and Parliamentarians advocate these erroneous statements with impunity? BLOOM investigated to find out where this extravagant figure came from.

Right from the very first Webpage of the industrial fishing lobby “BLUEFISH”, which presents itself as a harmless NGO, one can read “The scientific community recognizes that over 60% of fish stocks in Europe are fished sustainably”. But as for the rest of its operation,[3] BLUEFISH is absolutely not transparent about the source of such statement.

The only figure closely related to this value which BLOOM has found was mentioned in a 2015 report by the central French Administration (the Direction of Fisheries[4]), which states: “On all stocks assessed, the proportion of sustainably exploited stocks rose from 6% in 2004 to 61% in 2012“. A staggering gap explained by a strongly-biased calculation according to Frédéric Le Manach, Scientific Director of BLOOM: “The French Fisheries Direction has completely distorted the figures by making one believe that the calculation was based on “all assessed stocks”. They have actually only taken a very small fraction of the more than 200 European fish stocks in their calculation. The reality in 2012 was that only 13.8% of fish stocks were exploited with a sustainable fishing effort[5] (still far from sustainability!). Of course if one excludes inconvenient data from calculations, it’s easy to steer results wherever one wants.” So far as to understand the leap from 61% to the 70 or more percent figure pushed forward by politicians, Frédéric Le Manach can only suggest “a faulty memory or a tendency to exaggeration” as an explanation.

“French politicians have echoed serious disinformation stemming from the central administration and industrial fishing lobbies. Agitating these erroneous figures has had real consequences on much-needed management measures to restore marine ecosystems and fish populations. This situation points to an urgent need to better control lobbying and to ensure that all stakeholders are consulted by policymakers. The collusion between industrial lobbies and politicians is the very reason for the failure of successive governments to properly manage the fishing sector in France. It has to stop” concluded Frédéric Le Manach.

NGOs impose on themselves to substantiate their advocacy with numerous references, precisely in order to provide policy makers with rational, science-based arguments. This episode shows on the contrary that decisions are made by a handful of individuals in very poor control of their topic who are fed wacky data by industrial lobbies! If it is on this basis that our politicians legislate and that France intends to restore fish populations and save its fishing sector, we’re headed down the drain”, warned Claire Nouvian, President of BLOOM.

The “Blue Economy” bill will be discussed again in Senate on 23 and 24 March. Politicians have the opportunity to rethink their positions and to seriously worry about the quality of information made available to them. Only a thorough reform of the fishing sector will ensure long-term social and environmental sustainability.


To know more

Key findings from BLOOM’s analysis: 

In 2014, 18.0% of the assessed stocks were fished at a fishing effort lower than FMSY and the situation was unknown for another 64.6% of stocks. The remaining stocks (17.4%) are in a state of proven overfishing.

Some very large stocks in terms of catch volumes fall into the category of stocks whose fishing effort is lower than FMSY (e.g., several herring stocks). Thus, in terms of catches, there were 32.0% of stocks that were caught at a fishing effort lower than FMSY and the situation remains unknown for another 28.8%.

Only 8.3% of the assessed stocks also had a size (‘biomass’) large enough to prevent them from being subject to a management plan (biomass higher than the ‘Btrigger’ threshold)! In catch volume, these represented 13.8% of the assessed stocks.

A stock corresponds to the exploitable fraction of the total population of a fish species. For example, non-catchable juveniles are excluded from this concept of stock. Two stocks are theoretically isolated from one another, but there are some interactions in practice. In the case of the ling (Molva molva), there are four stocks assessed by ICES: one around Iceland, one around the Faeroe Islands, one in the Arctic part of the North Atlantic, and a last one dispatched over a large area.

The ‘FMSY’ indicator corresponds to the fishing effort (that is, the human and technological capacity set forth during a fishing trip) that results, when the system reaches its balanced state, in the maximum volume of fish caught year after year. This is the famous ‘maximum sustainable yield’ (MSY). If this threshold is exceeded, then the stock is overfished.

The biological response of a stock size (the ‘biomass’) to a decrease in fishing effort is not instantaneous: a stock can be at FMSY but still have a biomass lower than its maximum sustainable level (BMSY). This BMSY indicator is the only true indicator of fisheries sustainability but ICES refuses to publish it in its annual advice. Here, we thus used the Btrigger indicator. It corresponds to the biomass below which a management plan must be put in place in order to restore the productivity of the stock. Only 8.3% of the assessed stocks satisfactorily fulfill both FMSY and Btrigger criteria, but that does not mean they are fished sustainably. Indeed, Btrigger is lower than BMSY by definition. In conclusion, we are very, very far from the French Direction of Fisheries’ 61% figure of “sustainable stocks” and the inflated 70-75% of French Fisheries State Secretary Mr. Vidalies and the French right-wing MP Mr. Le Ray.

[1] Amendments 43 and 205 (prohibition to catch endangered species) and 192 and 207 (ban on deep-sea bottom trawling) were rejected using this argument:

[2] Health indicators for 258 stocks are available from 249 scientific documents on the ICES website:

[3] Budget, funding sources, political members, program of activities, interests defended etc.

[4] Direction des pêches maritimes et de l’aquaculture – DPMA

[5] The “FMSY” indicator is the optimal fishing effort, which ultimately results in the maximum catch of fish year after year (the famous “maximum sustainable yield”). Having a “sustainable fishing effort” therefore certainly does not mean that the fishery is already sustainable.


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