Conflicts of interest and environmental destruction: BLOOM and ANTICOR sound the alarm

A dive at the heart of a system that endangers marine biodiversity, the climate and even the fundamental principles of our democratic system.

14 November 2022 – BLOOM and French anti-corruption NGO ANTICOR warn of a case of public-private transfer that causes a clear conflict of interest in the tuna fishing sector.

BLOOM and ANTICOR discovered that the person responsible within the French administration[1] of negotiating access to African tuna resources for the French industrial fishing fleets had been recruited by the largest tuna fishing lobby in France, ‘ORTHONGEL’, a member of the European industrial lobby ‘EUROPECHE’, and this without respecting the three-year waiting period required by law.

In addition to their functions within the administration, this person also represented France in an international instance responsible for the management and control of tuna fishing in Africa (the “Indian Ocean Tuna Commission”).

This case of defection — which could fall under the offence of illegal interest-taking provided for in Article 432-13 of the French Criminal Code — breaches the most elementary ethical code consisting of not carrying out activities in the private sector that are linked to previous functions within the public administration. Indeed, it is intolerable that a civil servant, armed with their knowledge of files, timetables, strategic action plans, decision-making mechanisms, the mapping of relevant actors, as well as potential ongoing disputes would make this sensitive information available to private interests that are incompatible with the general interest that they were previously supposed to defend. Such information gives industrial lobbies the capacity to navigate with great efficiency in the State matrix in order to orient public decisions towards their particular interests.

→ Read the full story in our investigation file

The case we are revealing today provides a very concrete insight into how defectors reinforce the lobbies’ strategies of influence over public decisions. In addition, this scandal has an immediate norm-destroying impact that must be fully taken into account: at this very moment, nothing less than the global framework for the control of fishing fleets is being renegotiated at the European level, and the industrialists are on the verge of obtaining an appaling shift that would allow them to massively increase their official catches and to regularize years of illegal catches and tax fraud.

 The tuna lobby, armed with former public servants, is this close to obtaining a tolerance on catch declarations that would allow vessels to catch up to 50% more fish in certain cases.

And that’s not the whole story.

Tuna industrials may well obtain this staggering ‘margin of tolerance’ thanks to the decisive lobbying of the French State, which is taking a major part in this matter.

Indeed, France’s complacency towards its tuna fishing fleets has been pinpointed by the European Commission: on 9 June 2021, the latter opened an infringement proceeding[2] against France for having granted illegal derogations to its tuna vessels as well as failing to control them. On 29 September 2022, the Commission reiterated this formal notice against France, this time by means of a reasoned opinion, which is the last step before a possible infringement procedure by the Commission against France before the European Union’s highest court.

If, during the final trilogue negotiations scheduled in Brussels (potentially on the 22nd of November, otherwise at the end of 2022), France obtains, as expected, the increase of the tolerance margin on declared catches, it will be able to kill two birds with one stone: on the one hand, it will be able to nip in the bud the legal procedure initiated against it by the European Commission and avoid a conviction, and on the other hand, it will be able to legitimize its years of willful ignorance regarding the abuses of its tuna sector while institutionalizing the destruction of Africa’s marine ecosystems.

→ Find out more about fisheries in Africa on our dedicated campaign page

France has openly supported the unrelenting lobbying of the tuna industry and directly called on the members of the European Parliament to adopt amendments that exponentially increase the tolerance for their illegal catches. However, France has omitted to mention the infringement procedure currently open against its own State and has thus lied about its real motives: avoiding a condemnation and legitimizing the overfishing to which it has turned a blind eye for years.

Unless there is a strong reaction from the public and a counter-fire from the European Commission as well as some EU Member States, the scandalous free passes granted to the tuna industry by the French government are about to become the European standard for all vessels.

France is thereby caught in a blatant act of environmental destruction on a very large scale.

It should be reminded that this dismantling of the rules for the control of fleets targeting wild animals in African waters takes place in the overall context of the collapse of marine biodiversity and chronic overexploitation of tuna populations. In the Indian Ocean, official statistics, which are largely undervalued, already recognize that the majority of catches come from overfished stocks[3].

Furthermore, industrial fishing is mostly carried out with non-selective gear: ‘purse seines’, a large encircling net that captures animals gathered around artificial rafts called ‘fish aggregating devices’, or ‘FADs’.

This fishing method generates many discards and a true massacre of wildlife[4]. Vulnerable and fragile species such as manta rays, silky and longfin sharks are wiped out by the hundreds of thousands of kilos each year.

By reporting this defector case to the French Public Prosecutor, BLOOM and ANTICOR intend not only to ensure that the rules of probity and integrity, which are the absolute prerequisite for public action, are respected, but also to shed light on a system that cultivates conflicts of interest in order to favour the financial interests of industrialists to the detriment of the general interest and in particular the protection of the environment and living organisms.

BLOOM calls on citizens to mass mobilize against against the infiltration of lobbies and the conflicts of interest that paralyse public action.

In addition to the report to the Public Prosecutor, BLOOM is today sending the government a request for the repeal of the derogations illegally granted to the tuna fleets in 2015, as well as an official request for access to all the monitoring data that the government has allegedly carried out on distant water fishing fleets since 2009, as well as access to the vessels’ positioning data and all the data concerning the use of artificial rafts to increase fishing: FADs (fish aggregating devices).

Transparency is the prerequisite condition to put a stop to the pillaging of Africa by irresponsible industrial actors.

NOTES

[1] The “Direction des pêches maritimes et de l’aquaculture” (DPMA) or “Department of Marine Fisheries and Aquaculture”, which has since been renamed “Direction générale des affaires maritimes, de la pêche et de l’aquaculture” (DGAMPA) or “General Department of Maritime Affairs, Fisheries and Aquaculture”.

[2] See the press release of the European Commission. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/inf_21_2743.

[3] The official figure from ISSF (https://www.iss-foundation.org/tuna-stocks-and-management/our-tuna-stock-tools/interactive-stock-status-tool/) is of 50%, but the latest IOTC data show that bigeye tuna is now also overfished, and that skipjack tuna has never been fished at such a high level, much higher than the advised level. 

[4] Mannocci et al. (2020) Predicting bycatch hotspots in tropical tuna purse seine fisheries at the basin scale. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01393.

 

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