BLOOM calls on the EU to support environmental protection in the Indian Ocean

While two potentially game-changing meetings start today in Mombasa (Kenya) that could determine a clear improvement for the vastly degraded state of health of tuna populations and other marine life in the Indian Ocean, we call on the EU to completely change its stance and adopt the urgent measures tabled by India to protect the marine environment. Because populations of various tuna species are on the decline, strong action is needed to halt the large-scale damage done by foreign industrial fleets, especially French and Spanish tuna purse-seiners, to marine species in African waters. To that effect, India has for the first time, tabled a much-needed proposal to eliminate, at long last, the use of artificial rafts (drifting Fish Aggregating Devices, known as ‘FADs’)(1) that allow high-tech fisheries to catch all marine life to the last fish and leave animals no chance of escape.

The intergovernmental meetings to be held under the auspices of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) will last until 5 February and bring together 30 different States with a vested interest in migratory tuna fisheries. Stakes are high for marine ecosystems but also for the development of coastal countries, as the ‘allocation criteria’ for future quotas will be discussed. On both topics (the use of unsustainable and unselective FADs and fishing quotas), the respective proposals from coastal Indian Ocean countries and distant-fishing States (such as the European Union) are radically opposed. Negotiations promise to be intense.

A colonial stance versus sovereignty for coastal countries

The first IOTC meeting, from 30 January to 2 February, will cover the quota ‘allocation criteria’,(2) i.e. how the ‘fish pie’ is going to be sliced, who will get a slice, and how big. On that matter, a recent scientific study co-authored by BLOOM(3) sheds light on the various forces at work: while coastal countries advocate for a reappropriation of marine resources by coastal countries, the European Union pushes for the principle of ‘historical precedent’.

In other words, Indian Ocean countries argue that what is caught in their waters belongs to them, while the EU asserts that what EU fleets have caught historically in the area belongs to them. The EU position would ensure that EU fleets (that is, French and Spanish ones) would grab the lion’s share of any future quotas. The same principle of ‘historical precedence’ for the allocation of fishing quotas has been widely applied in the EU and has resulted in the progressive shrinking of small-scale coastal fishing communities, as industrial companies captured the vast majority of quotas.

We call on the EU to completely overhaul its neo-colonial stance regarding the allocation criteria for future quotas. The principle of historical precedence is a major social and environmental failure in Europe. The EU cannot let History repeat itself in the Indian Ocean given the current urge to protect marine ecosystems and local coastal communities in the face of rapid changes induced by the extinction of species and climate change. As it stands, the EU position is also completely inconsistent with its development aid program’s stated objectives to ‘reduce poverty’ and ‘mitigate climate change’.(4)

Subsidies and allocation: A legacy of distortion and intergenerational loss (Sinan et al.)

One of the greatest threats to the conservation of transboundary stocks is the failure of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) to equitably allocate future fishing opportunities. Across RFMOs, catch history remains the principal criterion for catch allocations, despite being recognized as a critical barrier to governance stability. This paper examines if and how subsidies have driven catch histories, thereby perpetuating the legacy of unfair resource competition between distant water fishing nations (DWFNs) and coastal States, and how this affects ongoing allocation negotiations in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC)…

→ Read the full article in Frontiers

A widely used destructive fishing gear

The second IOTC meeting, from 3 February to 5 February, will discuss the management of drifting FADs, i.e. floating objects made of various materials (plastic, bamboo, etc.) to which tarpaulins, ribbons and other materials are attached. FADs appeared in the early 1980s and have since grown in popularity as fishers began to mimic the natural phenomenon of fish being attracted to floating objects such as tree trunks or whale carcasses. The use of drifting FADs has grown exponentially: European tuna companies made 96% of their catches under FADs in 2018 in the Indian Ocean. FADs have long been criticized by scientists, NGOs, and fishers for their ultra-efficiency and negative impacts on marine ecosystems. In particular, ‘bycatch’ — i.e. juveniles and non-target species discarded dead or damaged at sea — is significant. For example, 97% of yellowfin tuna (an overfished species) caught under FADs by European companies in the Indian Ocean between 2015 and 2019 were juveniles.(5)

In the run up to the IOTC meeting, India has tabled a proposal that finally speaks truth to the powerful French and Spanish purse-seine fleets that use FADs: India has proposed to entirely ban drifting FADs starting 1 January 2024.(6)

Although India’s position in the IOTC is sometimes highly questionable, i.e. when the country objected to the yellowfin tuna rebuilding plan in 2022, BLOOM urges the EU to support India’s proposal to adopt a swift end of FADs in the Indian Ocean. This would allow the EU to align its objectives of sustainable fisheries with its acts, instead of supporting the private interests of a handful of companies with known negative impacts. Incidentally, that would also be a radically effective measure to rebuild the yellowfin population, given the impact of drifting FADs on this species (see above).

Kenya’s proposal shows time has come for change

Sign of the times: Kenya has also tabled a critically important proposal(7) addressing the dramatic impact of FADs on the health of the ocean. Instead of a full ban, Kenya is proposing to limit drifting FAD numbers to 150 units per fishing vessel and to phase out ‘supply vessels’, i.e. vessels that do not catch fish but that manage and release FADs for other fishing vessels, effectively increasing the number of FADs used by each of them. This very high figure of 150 FADs gives an idea of the uncontrolled deployment of the artificial rafts throughout the ocean. Currently, each vessel can have up to 300 FADs operational at any one time,(8) but it is impossible to know precisely how many FADs are used, as no data on their numbers, location, or ownership are available. 

This critical issue of opacity is also addressed by the Kenyan proposal which suggests the creation of a FAD register, containing in particular a unique identifier for each drifting FAD, its owner and assigned vessel. Kenya is also asking for the implementation of a drifting FAD monitoring system, which would also allow for real-time transmission of geolocation data. Such measures would be a substantial step forward to increase transparency about tuna fisheries.

The EU proposal at odds with environmental urgency

Instead of taking responsibility and starting to steer clear of technological assistance to catch declining fish populations, the EU has tabled a proposal emphasizing the need to put ‘biodegradable’ FADs in place,(9) which would have no impact on most of the intrinsic deleterious impacts that FADs have on marine ecosystems, e.g. bycatch and high catch of juveniles.

The EU claims to have a vision for sustainable fisheries and fair partnership with developing countries, but it has yet to walk the talk. On the contrary, BLOOM has recently shown that the French and Spanish purse seine lobbies now outweighed the number of public representatives within the EU official delegations in the Indian Ocean.(10)

Today, BLOOM calls on the EU to take a stance for sustainable fisheries and social justice through truly fair partnership agreements with developing countries and by supporting India’s proposal on FADs, Kenya’s proposal on transparency and the claims of coastal countries instead of obeying its fishing industry.

Read BLOOM’s investigation file : ‘The EU under the rule of tuna lobbies’


[1] Drifting FADs — used by industrial purse seiners — must not be confused by anchored FADs, used by small-scale fishers close to shores, which have a marginal environmental impact but which provide safety at sea and therefore increased food security.


[3] Sinan et al. (2022) Subsidies and allocation: a legacy of distortion and intergenerational loss.



[6] Proposal by India:

[7] Proposal by Kenya:

[8] Resolution 19/02 of the IOTC: “This Resolution sets the maximum number of operational buoys followed by any purse seine vessel at 300 at any one time. The number of instrumented buoys that may be acquired annually for each purse seine vessel is set at no more than 500. No purse seine vessel shall have more than 500 instrumented buoys (buoy in stock and operational buoy) at any time”. Available at:

[9] Proposal by the EU:



  • 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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