10 May 2023
Appeal lodged by BLOOM against the European Union and France for obstruction of ocean protection
10 May 2023
While the members of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) have been gathered in Mauritius since Monday for their annual meeting, the political stakes for the protection of marine ecosystems have never been higher, as European tuna lobbies and their political allies are undermining any environmental progress in the region. Today, BLOOM is filing two appeals with the European Commission and the French Directorate General for Maritime Affairs, Fisheries and Aquaculture (DGAMPA), following the objections filed by these two institutions against the decision taken last February by the IOTC to partially ban ‘Fish Aggregating Devices’ (FADs) — a highly destructive fishing method — for part of the year. These unacceptable objections are in total contradiction with the principles of the Common Fisheries Policy and are only going to fuel anti-European resentment in the region as well as the despair of civil society, appalled by the EU’s determination to act against the general interest for the sole benefit of a handful of French and Spanish industrials.
On 5 February 2023, the coastal countries achieved a real tour de force, by obtaining (by 16 votes against 23) a first annual ban on FADs in the Indian Ocean. This temporary ban is applied in all other oceans as a conservation measure and as a precautionary principle. FADs are widely considered a serious threat to marine ecosystems worldwide. Even industry representatives openly acknowledge that FADs have a catastrophic impact, as evidenced by Adrien de Chomereau, CEO of Sapmer — one of the three French companies that target tropical tuna — who stated that “as few FADs as possible is the path of virtue.”(1)
A resolution rendered ineffective and perhaps soon cancelled
Despite this democratic decision taken by IOTC members in February 2023 — which represented a first and very concrete step towards the recovery of overexploited tuna populations in the Indian Ocean and the protection of fragile marine ecosystems — the European Commission chose to align itself with the interests of a handful of French and Spanish tuna companies. The institution thus argued for an objection to this essential resolution, using a series of false arguments that we had already refuted in a previous report.(2) On 11 April 2023, the European Commission formally lodged its objection with the IOTC secretariat,(3) and three days later, France — which benefits from an additional seat on the IOTC thanks to its ‘Iles Éparses’ (a few small uninhabited islands in the Mozambique Channel) — lodged a similar objection.(4)
In doing so, the vast majority of vessels using these lethal devices in the Indian Ocean are now outside the scope of the IOTC resolution, since under IOTC governance, resolutions do not apply to objecting members. The Seychelles and Oman have also objected, so the resolution now applies to only five of the 47 French and Spanish-owned vessels operating in the Indian Ocean.(5) If Mauritius were to carry out its threat to object as well, only one vessel would remain affected.
Remedies needed to protect marine ecosystems
Faced with the omnipotence of industrial lobbies and their political intermediaries within the European Commission and the Council of the EU, BLOOM turns once again to justice, which has become almost the only remaining bulwark for citizens’ and ecologists’ associations against arbitrations that endanger, one after the other, the balance of the biosphere.
Through the two appeals filed by BLOOM, we ask the European Commission and France(6) to reconsider their decisions and to withdraw their objections to the necessary ban on FADs 72 days a year.
By defending by all means, including undemocratic methods, a handful of industrialists engaged in highly controversial and destructive fisheries, the EU is playing a dangerous game in the Indian Ocean and is fuelling deep-rooted anti-European resentment whose ramifications would go far beyond the simple question of fishing. Using development aid as a bargaining chip to obtain the lowering of the ecological requirements of the countries of the South is notably a devastating act for North-South trust and leaves little hope for the people on either side of the European and African continents on the ability of politicians to take the fair and courageous decisions that are needed at a time of biodiversity and climate collapse. If the European industrial fleets behave with such blatant ecological and neo-colonial brutality, how can we hope to improve the practices of other distant water fishing nations, such as China, Korea, Russia or Turkey?
The recent actions of the EU and France have shattered the myth of the exemplary nature of the industrial fleets that the European Commission would like to install. We are now counting on the proceedings initiated through this first act to force the EU to behave in a transparent and dignified manner.
MORE ABOUT FADs
European tuna vessels depend entirely on destructive FADs
Several particularly striking facts and figures demonstrate the weight of the European fleets in this ecocidal fishing practice:
- EU vessels currently account for about 95% of tuna catches officially made around FADs in the Indian Ocean;(7)
- IOTC data shows that 93% of yellowfin tuna and 99% of bigeye tuna — two species considered overfished since 2015(8) and 2022,(9) respectively — caught under FADs by EU vessels are juveniles and immature individuals that have not reproduced.(10) Yvon Riva — former Chair of the French tuna fishing union Orthongel — admits without batting an eyelid: “It is a statement that we regret, but it is the truth, there is no reason to deny it“, in response to a French journalist highlighting that French fishers “[are] fishing 10kg juvenile fish that have not reproduced, on a species that is overfished and overexploited”;(11)
- Up to 10% of FAD-related catches are 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%(12) to 90%(13) of FADs are abandoned or lost at sea, eventually running aground, generating a massive source of marine pollution and posing a threat to marine life long after their use has ended.
(5) 13 French and 15 Spanish vessels, plus three French vessels registered in Mauritius, and 16 Spanish vessels registered in Seychelles (13), Mauritius (1), Tanzania (1), and Oman (1).
(6) Direction générale française des affaires maritimes, de la pêche et de l’aquaculture (DGAMPA).
(10) Catch size data published by IOTC. Available at: https://iotc.org/data/datasets. Data for French and Spanish seiners, 2020-2021.
(11) “Industrial fishing: big fish in troubled waters”. Cash investigation (France 2). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRvNZ5OqQac.
(12) Imzilen et al. (2022) Recovery at sea of abandoned, lost or discarded drifting fish aggregating devices. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00883-y.
(13) 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.