11 January 2024
France once again contradicts its European commitments by acquiring the world’s largest pelagic trawler.
11 January 2024
In a ‘surprising’ turn of events, 2024 is not set to be the ‘Year of the Sea’ as promised by Emmanuel Macron. Indeed, French authorities have just authorized the acquisition by the ‘Companie des Pêches de Saint-Malo’ (‘Saint-Malo Fishing Company’) of the largest pelagic trawler in the world. This move comes despite Stéphane Séjourné’s (Renew’s Chairman at the European Parliament and just appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs) public stance in July 2023, in which he pledged his vote for the exclusion of any ship larger than 25m from the country’s coastal areas within a 22km radius. The stark contrast between the Chairman’s earlier position and the government’s recent decision proves, once again, the total lack of consistency of their maritime policies.
Declaration of Stéphane Séjourné on instagram, 11 july 2023, right before 9 p.m. It reads :
A few hours before the vote on the Nature Restauration Law, I am getting back to you. My group and I are trying to save the text and find a majority. The voting recommendations of @Reneweurope will indicate: No to the rejection of the text. Yes to the obligation to restore 30% of endagered ecosystems by 2030. Yes to the Nature Restoration Law. For the final vote. We will also support with numerous colleagues of the delegations @Ensemble_UE the exclusion of vessels over +25m from coastal waters
The fight is not over yet. Every vote counts. If we need to mobilize, it is on the fate of the text. We are still missing a few votes. LR (PPE), RN (ECR) and Reconquête (IF) have decided to reject it. Call on @fxbellamy and @jordanbardella who refuse to move with the times and will probably vote to reject the text to prevent the amendments from being discussed. Nature does not have a political color. We can do it.
Too big to stay in Saint-Malo
The ‘Annelies Ilena’ (nicknamed “the Ship from Hell”) is a factory ship set to target blue whiting, a small pelagic fish used in industrial surimi, or fish paste. The vessel, currently owned by Parlevliet & van der Plas in the Netherlands(1), will replace the 90-meter French trawler ‘Joseph Roty II’ by the end of January 2024.
It is ‘arriving’ in France, only figuratively speaking, because the 145 meter industrial monster is too big to even enter the port of Saint-Malo, where the surimi factory is located.
A long history of controversy for the biggest monster of the seas
The Annelies Ilena is a factory ship, capable of catching 400,000 kg of fish every 24 hours, with a storage capacity of 7 million kg. Formerly named ‘Atlantic Dawn’, it has been the subject of much controversy due to its tumultuous history (3). In 2002, it was registered in Ireland thanks to some dubious legal maneuvers: its colossal size prevented it from obtaining a fishing license in European waters, due to the cap on fishing capacity. In order to circumvent European laws, it was registered as a merchant vessel and granted temporary fishing licenses.
Limited by European quotas, the Atlantic Dawn could not use its full fishing capacity. A fishing agreement had been signed with Mauritania in 2002, allowing intensive exploitation of their waters for nine months a year. Nicknamed the “Ship from Hell” by Mauritanians due to its destructive fishing practices, the vessel was forced out after five years of plundering. It was then bought by Dutch giant Parlevliet & van der Plas in 2007 via its subsidiary Viking Bank for 30 million euros and renamed the Annelies Ilena.
Since 2018, the Annelies Ilena has flown the Polish flag, but remains the property of Parlevliet & van der Plas. It will continue to benefit from a fishing agreement between Europe and Mauritania until 2027, costing European taxpayers 57.5 million euros a year (4). In exchange, the 18 European ‘Pelagic freezer trawlers’ (5) can plunder 225 million kilos of fish in Mauritanian waters.
The ‘Saint-Malo Fishing Company’ is now preparing to operate the Annelies Ilena by the end of January 2024. Parlevliet & van der Plas, whose sales reached a record 1.47 billion euros last year (6), will build two new vessels to replace the Annelies Ilena. They will cost 80 million and 55 million euros respectively.
One year ahead of the United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC) to be held in Nice in 2025, BLOOM calls on European governments to radically change course and implement a plan to transition out of trawling towards low-impact practices.
Fairness and transparency: worrying grey areas
In addition to ecological concerns, the ‘Saint-Malo Fishing Company’’s investment raises a number of questions in terms of fairness and transparency. Indeed, the company stated that it had made its investment with the aim of replacing the mega-trawler Joseph Roty II “in liaison with the French administrations” (7). This enigmatic sentence does not indicate whether this vessel will fly the French flag. If it does, it could benefit from French quotas and fishing zones that are currently off-limits to it, such as French territorial waters.
However, the power of the Annelies Ilena and that of the Joseph Roty II are not comparable. The Annelies Ilena is five times more powerful than its predecessor. “A 145m vessel with 14400 kW of engine power cannot replace a 90m vessel with 2944 kW of power without the French authorities issuing an additional permit that would not benefit sustainable practices,” explains Laetitia Bisiaux, project manager at BLOOM.
Another issue is that of fishing quotas: due to its greater capacity, the Annelies Ilena will need more quotas. The Compagnie des pêches de Saint-Malo will have to request them from ‘FROM Nord’, the producers’ organization in charge of distributing them to its members. This distribution is totally opaque (8), but obtaining these additional quotas should not pose any major difficulties: the president of FROM Nord is none other than Florian Soisson, who is also managing director of Compagnie des pêches Saint-Malo. Coincidentally, Florian Soisson has also been fourth vice-president of the Comité national des pêches et des élevages marins (CNPMEM) since December 2023. Evidently, industrial fishers have rigged the system and their representation in the fishing sector in order to defend their own interests and allocate quotas to themselves.
(1) See the BLOOM article: https://www.bloomassociation.org/en/exceptional-citizen-mobilization-leads-to-the-adoption-of-the-nature-restoration-law/ Stéphane Séjourné posted on Instagram: “We will also support with many colleagues from the @Ensemble_UE delegation the exclusion of +25m vessels from coastal waters”.
(2) Compagnie des pêches de Saint-Malo is 50% owned by UK Fisheries, itself owned by the Dutch Parlevliet & Van der Plas (and the Icelandic Samherji).
(7) Press release published on Facebook on 21 December 2023: https://www.facebook.com/CompagniedespechesSaintMalo/posts/pfbid02DnVbqDWkesiXyKbx4MMVh3ZhMA2AiSx9aHwCAzDUL8etcvBn2DNT1WNz1ytwByMjl
(8) BLOOM takes legal action over opacity of fishing quotas in 2023: https://www.bloomassociation.org/en/bloom-takes-legal-action-to-obtain-transparency-on-fishing-quotas/