09 September 2021
The European Commission is trying to quietly open the floodgates to industrial fishing in coastal areas
09 September 2021
BLOOM reveals that the European Commission has quietly amended the technical measures regulation during the summer break, allowing ‘Danish seine’ vessels – mostly large Dutch vessels – to enter the 12 nautical miles of the North Sea of France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, with no engine power limit and for all species.
The Dutch industry can therefore legitimately come and plunder the territorial waters of these countries from 15 July 2021. An appeal for annulment is possible, but it must be lodged by 15 September at the latest by the European Parliament or a Member State.
The European Commission has been working during the summer break for the expansion of the Danish seine
In the Official Journal of the European Union, dated 15 July 2021, a delegated regulation was published with heavy consequences for the protection of the ocean and coastal fisheries in the territorial waters of the North Sea: the “Danish seine” – a destructive fishing method strongly favoured by Dutch industrials – is now authorised for all species and without limitation of engine power, within 12 nautical miles (coastal maritime zones where states exercise full sovereignty) of northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark.
The rules for the use of the Danish seine in the original technical measures regulation (2019/1241) are already far too flexible. In spite of this, the Commission has issued a completely biased text, which has the effect of allowing vessels equipped with the Danish seine, targeting all species including sole and plaice, in a coastal area of the North Sea known as the ‘plaice box’ without any limitation of engine power. This nursery area has been regulated since 1989 to protect juvenile plaice and limit discards.
This proposal for a delegated regulation should primarily benefit the Dutch industry, which has invested mainly in Danish seine gear, also under French, German and Belgian flags. This fleet continues to grow, in particular to compensate for the losses caused by the ban on electric fishing in Europe.
As this is a so-called ‘delegated regulation’, i.e. an amendment to an existing regulation, the European Commission took advantage of the summer period to sneak through a radical change:
- The EU Commission drafted and adopted the ‘delegated regulation’ on 12 May, which is only a few lines long, which may therefore suggest a marginal change;
- The procedure requires that this delegated regulation is then transmitted to the European Parliament and the EU Council so that these two institutions can express their objections within the two months prescribed by law; however, this amendment was only transmitted to the coordinators of the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries, including Gabriel Mato and Clara Aguilera, two MEPs who have historically been in favour of industrial fishing, as we demonstrated in our campaigns for the ban on electric fishing and for the ban of harmful subsidies in the EMFAF. This period having expired, as there were no objections, the regulation was published in the Official Journal on 15 July. It entered into force immediately.
- An appeal is however possible, if it is lodged before 15 September 2021 and requests the annulment of this delegated regulation.
“Once again, after electric fishing, the European Commission shows a clear proximity with Dutch interests, losing all neutrality. It is time that the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (within the European Commission) no longer appears to be a branch of the Netherlands and that the officials in this Directorate-General who have interests more or less linked to the Netherlands be removed,” analyses Frédéric Le Manach, Scientific Director of BLOOM.
The restrictions implemented in France
This delegated regulation comes after the failure of the Dutch industry, last May, to legitimise the presence of Danish seine in the Eastern Channel via an agreement called the Gentleman’s Agreement with French, Belgian and English fishers. Since then, in order to curb the appetite of these destructive fishing gears, blockades of the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer have been regularly set up to demand the systematic control of Dutch seine boats (or those under Dutch ownership) that land their fish and transport it by truck to the Netherlands without any control. These vessels are therefore obliged to land in another port (e.g. Normandy), or in the Netherlands, which requires more fuel to be consumed, and therefore additional costs.
It is surprising, to say the least, that the French government has agreed to the expansion of the Danish seine. On the contrary, there seems to be a desire to limit its use. Indeed, on 16 October 2020, the French fisheries committee (Comité national des pêches maritimes et des élevages marins; CNPMEM) adopted a deliberation limiting the number of vessels under the French flag authorised to carry out seine fishing (Danish seine and Scottish seine) in the Eastern Channel sector, which was approved by ministerial order on 26 October 2020.
Serious irregularities in the adoption of this delegated regulation
There appear to have been three serious irregularities, which suggest that from a legal point of view, in adopting this delegated regulation, the European Commission has abused its powers.
1 – The justification put forward by the EU Commission for the adoption of this delegated regulation seems to be illegal.
According to the joint recommendation of the Member States, “The understanding of the Scheveningen Group MS [composed of the fisheries directorates of six Member States (France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden)] was that the provisions concerning the Plaice box were to be status quo, compared to the former regulation 850/98“.
This claim is not supported by any evidence or reasoning. When changing from one regulation to another, there is no acquired rights of any kind.
2 – The area studied by the STECF (Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries) and which was the subject of the Member State meeting includes only Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. France and Belgium were added by the European Commission in the delegated regulation without any explanation. It is therefore possible that France and Belgium accepted this regulation without knowing that it concerned their territorial waters.
3 – The ‘Danish seine’ gear is not correctly defined in the delegated regulation, whereas the STECF stresses that “it should be made clear that ‘Danish seine’ here refers only to the Danish “anchor seine” (SDN code gear) and not to the “Scottish” seine or the “flyshooter/flydragger” seine (gear code SSC)”. However, it is precisely the latter gear that is used by the Dutch industry. In fact, the STECF proposal excluded them, which the European Commission skilfully bypassed by remaining vague.
BLOOM mobilised urgently around this delegated regulation
This regulation has curiously gone completely unnoticed until now. After having read it and studied it in order to understand all the consequences and to discover the possible remedies thanks to our legal support, BLOOM consulted over ten members of the Parliament, members of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on fisheries. None of the members contacted had been aware of this delegated regulation. BLOOM had also informed the fishers from Hauts-de-France and Normandy, who themselves called MEP Pierre Karleskind, Chairman of the Committee on Fisheries, to find out more. The latter was not informed.
There are not many options: only a Member State and/or the European Parliament can lodge an appeal against this delegated regulation, which must be annulled because it legitimises the presence of industrial fishers in the territorial waters of the North Sea. The deadline for appealing is two months, which is extremely short. After 15 September, it will be too late. Alerted by BLOOM, French MP Sébastien Jumel has written a letter to the French Minister for the Sea, Annick Girardin, to this effect.
Without an urgent reaction from France or the European Parliament, industrial fishing will have succeeded in legalising its presence in sovereign coastal areas and will be able to destroy a fragile breeding ground, in agreement with the European institutions. Marine ecosystems and small-scale coastal fishing will continue to suffer.
Notes and references
 Like the bottom trawl, the Danish seine is a funnel-shaped net deployed on the ocean floor. The metal panels are replaced by long cables that are set in vibration and scare the fish by creating a wall of suspended sediment. This traps them very (too!) effectively in the net. The fish caught are of much better quality than those caught by trawling because they are not crushed. Although there is no assessment of the impact of this technique on ecosystems at the moment, many small-scale fishers speak out against this method because it leaves no chance for the fish (whether targeted or not) to escape. The Danish seine, promoted by the Dutch, is used in shallow coastal waters, competing with small-scale fishing.
 BLOOM’s campaign led to a total ban on electric fishing from 1 July 2021. This method had been developed by the Dutch industry to increase the efficiency of the bankrupt beam trawl due to the increase in fuel prices.
 The European Parliament can lodge an action for annulment via the following procedure: the JURI Committee makes a report to the European Parliament. It is then up to the President of the European Parliament to initiate the action under Rule 149 of the European Parliament’s Rules of Procedure. In case of urgency, the President of the European Parliament may act, with optional consultation of the President and the rapporteur of the JURI Committee.