30 May 2023
Fishing quotas: Associations enter the fray
30 May 2023
Enough is enough: BLOOM and three fishers’ organizations call for the full transparency and fair distribution of fishing quotas.
Far from being fair, the distribution of fishing quotas is a strategic issue for fishers. In France, opacity is the rule, perpetuating a system that favors industrialists. In order to protect the ocean and artisanal fishing communities – or what’s left of them – BLOOM Association, the Plateforme de la petite pêche artisanale, the Ligneurs de la Pointe de Bretagne, the Pleine Mer Association and a Norman fisher have decided to no longer submit to the diktat of industrial fishers, proponents of harmful environmental and social practices, and to take action, including legal action, to obtain a fair, sustainable and transparent distribution of fishing quotas.
Four actions to change the distribution of quotas
Fishing quotas are tools designed to manage fish stocks sustainably and fairly. In France, these quotas are distributed among producer organizations (POs), which then allocate them to their members on the basis of their past catches (the “anteriorités de pêche” system).
On Friday 26 May, BLOOM and fishers lodged an ex gratia appeal against the decree allocating fishing quotas between producer organizations for the year 2023, as it favors industrial fishing to the detriment of marine ecosystems and better fishing practices. At the same time, BLOOM has sent three requests for information to the French Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, concerning: 1) quota exchanges between France and other EU Member States, 2) the opinion of the National Fisheries Committee on which quota allocation is based, and 3) access to the management plans of producer organizations approved by the Ministry.
The diktat of past catches: A system that rewards those who have fished the most
The quota allocation system is essentially based on the unchangeable law of past catches, i.e. what a vessel has fished between 2001 and 2003. In other words, the more a vessel has fished in the past, the greater its share of quotas. On the contrary, new fishers with no track record have very little chance of joining a producer organization, since the quota allocation rules are fixed.
On the other hand, the current allocation system takes absolutely no account of the ecological impact of the gear, nor of the socio-economic repercussions. In fact, it is the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) that issues scientific opinions for the European Commission: “STECF concludes that historical fishing rights are the main criterion used to allocate fishing quotas. Environmental and social criteria are barely used and have only a limited impact on the final allocation”.  The result is a systematic marginalization of artisanal fishers and better fishing practices in favor of powerful economic interests. Although they represent 70% of the fleet, vessels of less than 12 meters using passive techniques land 10% of catches.  Instead of encouraging sustainable fishing, this system rewards those who bear the greatest responsibility for the collapse of fish populations.
This way of allocating quotas violates the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy, which aims to ensure sustainable exploitation of marine resources and promote equity in the distribution of fishing opportunities. Article 17 states that “Member States shall use transparent and objective criteria, including environmental, social and economic criteria”.
The producer organization, FROM Nord, accounts for 44% of French quotas alone
This distribution system favors one producer organization: FROM Nord, which takes the lion’s share of all pelagic species, including 98.6% of the herring quota and 100% of the blue whiting quota. In total, FROM Nord obtains more than 117,000 tonnes of quota for its 155 member vessels, while the OPN (“les Pêcheurs Normands”, “Norman Fishers” in English) receives only 6,500 tonnes, all species combined, to be shared between its 220 member vessels.
The case of mackerel is representative of this. Of the 10,404 tonnes allocated to France in the Channel for this species, the FROM Nord producers’ organization received 6,102 tonnes, or almost 59%. In comparison, vessels not belonging to producer organizations only have 81 tonnes to share, or less than 0.008% of the mackerel quota. Only eight days after publication of the decree, mackerel fishing was closed to non-members. The regional committee for fisheries in Normandie (“Comité régional des pêches de Normandie”) reacted on Facebook, declaring: “The question of quota allocation has already been raised, and needs to be addressed on a national level!” The appeal lodged by BLOOM and co-signatory fisher associations is precisely the right opportunity to reshuffle the cards.
Dutch industrialists help themselves to French quotas
Such a stranglehold by FROM Nord can be explained by the presence of nine industrial vessels owned by France Pélagique, Compagnie des Pêches de Saint-Malo and Euronor. “These three companies belong to the Dutch giants Cornelis Vrolijk and Parlevliet & Van der Plas (P&P). Some of these vessels are capable of catching several hundred tonnes of fish a day and processing them on board. Not only do these quotas benefit industrialists whose fishing practices are destructive for the ocean, but they also rob the coastal fishermen who provide the livelihood for the coastline,” states Laetitia Bisiaux, project manager at BLOOM.
BLOOM and the co-signatory fishers called on the competent authorities to urgently re-examine the allocation of quotas, and called for a thorough reform of this discriminatory policy in order to restore justice and equity in the access to marine resources.
Opaque and exclusive exchanges of the common good
Quotas can be exchanged between Member States via producer organizations, once again in total opacity. For example, the Margiris, a 136-meter-long factory ship flagged in Lithuania (and under Dutch ownership), catches several hundred tons of fish every day, despite the fact that this Member State has no fishing quota for pelagic species, with the exception of 97 tons of herring and 97 tons of mackerel. 
In order to satisfy the voracious appetite of these industrial vessels, Lithuania has to exchange quotas with other countries such as France. A cross-border market in the common good is thus unfolding in a totally opaque manner, further favoring industrialists.
Towards a greater concentration of quotas?
BLOOM will be paying close attention to the distribution of quotas from vessels that benefited from a publicly-funded scrapping scheme following Brexit. Two companies, Scapêche (French supermarket, Intermarché’s, fleet) and La Houle, have announced that they have scrapped several vessels, but maintain that there will be little change in the fishing capacity of their fleets. These companies thus want to unilaterally transfer quotas to their remaining active vessels. However, these quotas are to be distributed to all members of the producer organization to which the vessel originally belonged, among others.
If these two companies were to obtain the transfer of their quotas, the sector would see an even greater concentration of fishing rights in the hands of a small group of industrialists.
 Free translation p7 of the STECF report available at: https://stecf.jrc.ec.europa.eu/documents/43805/43235972/STECF+22-14+-+Fisheries+social+data.pdf/d6903c4d-d908-4560-8748-ee8da82b0998?version=1.0
 Source: STECF annual report 2021 reporting data for 2019. Some of the species landed are not subject to quotas.
 Regulation 1380/2013 (Common Fisheries Policy): https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2013:354:0022:0061:en:PDF
 In accordance with Article 16 of Regulation 1380/2013, Member States, after notifying the Commission, may exchange all or part of the fishing capacities allocated to them.
 See regulation 2023/194: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32023R0194
 For Scapêche: “Even if the departure of these vessels will result in an annual reduction of between 2,500 and 3,000 tonnes of fish and shellfish in the auctions of southern Brittany, Scapêche believes that the new balance in the distribution of quotas should allow an increase in the volume of certain catches for its vessels still in operation.”
For La Houle: “La Houle is counting on the withdrawal of three to four of its oldest vessels, in order to produce tomorrow almost as much as today, i.e. 2,700 to 2,800 tons of catches and 11.5 million euros in sales, with around fifty sailors. And so fewer but more efficient vessels.
 Article R921-44: “The definitive cessation of activity of a producer’s vessel results in 30% of the vessel’s prior rights being placed in the national reserve. The remaining 70% is allocated to the reserve of the producer organization to which the producer was a member when the vessel left the fleet.”