France, the future 2025 UN Ocean Conference host, openly fights ocean protection

The French Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, has set the fishing sector on fire against Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in order to avoid the prohibition of bottom trawling and the ecological transition of fisheries. For over two weeks, the State Secretary has repeatedly lied to fishers and announced their imminent and apocalyptic disappearance because of Brussels. As a result of his irresponsible public addresses, violent confrontations and port blockades occurred all throughout France, feeding an anti-ecological, anti-NGO, and anti-European feeling in fishing communities. 

The pathetic sequence ended on Sunday 2 April 2023 when European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Mr. Sinkevicius, had to explain to the French State Secretary that the EU Ocean Action Plan was just an « Action Plan » and not a binding legislative proposal for a Regulation or a Directive. A lamentable episode which unveils the profound incompetence of the French government and its determination to fight any protection measure for the ocean, the climate and artisanal fishers. An extremely embarrassing position coming from the country which will host the 2025 UN Ocean Conference, and a hint that the ecological imposture of Macron’s government will not hold until then. 

BLOOM calls on the UN to take back from France the responsibility to organize the UN Ocean Conference and on Costa Rica to denounce its co-chair of the « High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People », which serves as an anti-ecological lobbying platform for France to fight any real ambition for the ocean.

BLOOM calls on the UN Division for Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean Mr. Peter Thomson, to ask for a State other than France to host the next UN Ocean Conference, at the risk of discrediting the international meeting and missing the slot to act truly in favor of the ocean and the stability of the climate.

After nearly three weeks of fear-mongering lies about the supposedly immediate ban on destructive fishing methods in so-called ‘protected’ marine areas, which would “condemn French artisanal fishing and lead to its disappearance, not in 10 years, but tomorrow”the French Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, has FINALLY understood that the European Commission’s ‘Ocean Action Plan’ released on 21 February was an ACTION PLAN and not a binding LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL, as explained in our analysis of M. Berville’s declarations (available in French).

Mr Berville issued a triumphant press release to make himself look like the fishers’ hero and cover up this embarrassing episode from which he did not take anything away as there was no imminent threat.

Having deciphered his successive lies, we now decipher his political maneuver, without neglecting the possibility of a case of total incompetence.

The option of total incompetence

Even if one did not understand the difference between an ‘action plan’ (non-binding) and a legislative proposal (binding but after a long legislative procedure involving the Council and the Parliament) — which would be extremely worrying for a Secretary of State — it would be impossible to read in the ‘Action Plan’ what Mr. Berville has read and hammered into the media and institutions as an exalted preacher, i.e. “a condemnation of small-scale fishing”, the end of shellfishing, oyster production, inshore fishing… In short, the death of the entire fishing industry!

A reminder of the facts: the path proposed by the Commission

The Commission’s Action Plan proposes the following objectives for EU Member States:

  • To ban towed gears, such as bottom trawling, in ‘Natura 2000’ areas designated for the protection of the seabed under the 1992 Habitats Directive. This is what France and EU countries should have already done (and which some indeed have) since 1992 and it is precisely for stragglers like France that the European Commission has set the deadline of 2024. This is a simple, unfortunately non-binding reminder of European law. We indeed deplored at the time of the release of the ‘Ocean Action Plan’ (see our press release) that the European Commission did not have the courage to make this objective immediately binding.
  • To ban towed gear in all Marine Protected Areas, but only by 2030. This deadline is far too late for the climate and for marine biodiversity, but if the French government were to play its steering role, this deadline would make it possible to organize the transition in a calm and rational manner, to choose the areas to be protected in priority, to assess the impact on jobs, and to evaluate the need for financial support and the adaptation of activities.


This is obviously not the choice made by Hervé Berville, who preferred to fan the flames of fear to later enhance the fact that he had succeeded in putting an end to the chaos that he himself had generated.

What did he have to gain by setting fire to the French fishing sector? What calculation did he make? Here are some explanations.

1) Hervé Berville served his industrial networks

The Secretary of State used the release of the ‘Ocean Action Plan’ to establish, even more clearly than before, his loyalty to his networks in Brittany and to the most destructive method in the sector — trawlers that drag their nets along the sea bottom — which is condemned by its very high fuel consumption and its particularly harmful ecological footprint.

Read the review of impacts compiled by Oceana and Seas at Risk here.

In France, Mr Berville’s career depends on his ability to satisfy those who control politics in Britanny, i.e. the fishing and farming industries. For them, the roadmap is clear: if they agree to question their patterns, to improve ecological and social justice, to remunerate producers better, to valorize marine or agricultural productions rather than to make low quality volume, their model would collapse. They therefore need subservient politicians who agree to defend the worst industrial fishing practices and betray artisanal and coastal fishers (this has been the case for decades, Mr Berville is not an isolated figure).

2) Mr Berville tried to present the Brussels ‘commitment’ as a major step forward when in fact, it was a diplomatic slap in the face

Mr Berville’s statement that he has “obtained confirmation that a ban on mobile bottom contact gear will not be imposed on Member States” is preposterous to anyone capable of reading an institutional text and a political agenda. In short, the State Secretary’s press release says that the EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries (Mr Sinkevičius) had to explain to Mr Berville what an Action Plan consisted in (non-binding guidelines), and how to read and understand it. However hard the State Secretariat’s communication team worked to rephrase the situation, the release could not hide the diplomatic humiliation that this meeting represented for the French Secretary of State.

3) Hervé Berville hoped to fool artisanal fishers and split the alliances he fears

What frightens the fishing industry is the alliance between NGOs and coastal fishers, as it is an alliance capable of overturning the established order, currently in favor of industrial interests alone.

In fact, as mentioned in a series of tweets by BLOOM founder Claire Nouvian on Saturday 1 April, the all too rare decisions that have benefited both the environment and the coastal fishing sector have been won through the joint mobilisation of fishers and BLOOM. Victories such as the ban on electric fishing were achieved thanks to a public campaign led hand in hand by BLOOM and coastal fishers against the French State and against French fishing industry representatives (the National Committee for Maritime Fisheries, which is in favor of industrialists, including foreign ones).

When coastal and artisanal fishers join forces with NGOs, their voices and needs finally reach the heart of political institutions, while their official representative body betrays them on a daily basis.

This is the heart of the problem within the fisheries sector. This is why on Wednesday 22 March in Rennes (Brittany), fishers gathered and called for the dissolution of the National Committee for Maritime Fisheries as well as of the producers’ organizations that most often distribute quotas to industrial actors.

Hervé Berville and his industrial allies are obviously mistaken: coastal and artisanal fishers are not fooled, and they have not forgotten that Mr. Berville keeps on abandoning them in the decisions he makes, notably in the failure to ban demersal seining, which has provoked long-lasting anger from fishers towards the Secretary of State.

Today, it is again BLOOM and coastal fishers who are calling for an EU ban on vessels over 25 meters long in EU territorial waters (12 nautical miles) via an amendment tabled by MEPs Marie Toussaint and Yannick Jadot in the European Parliament, while Hervé Berville refuses to act to put an end to the unfair competition between coastal fishers and industrial vessels, which can reach up to 140 meters in length and catch as much fish as 1,000 small-scale boats fish in a single day.

It is again an alliance between BLOOM and fishers who are acting to ensure that justice is served and that the illegal subsidies granted to Dutch industrialists for electric fishing are finally returned to European citizens.

Mr Berville will leave, but fishers and NGOs will remain.

We will continue to work together to rationally and constructively come up with transitions that preserve the climate, the environment and fishers’ livelihoods for maximum social benefit and minimum ecological impact.

Without politicians in the equation, it would be simple to achieve this. This lamentable episode confirms that the transitions that our societies must make are prevented by politicians and their cronyism, which poisons public life.

As for Marine Protected Areas, it is probably time to inform the rest of the world that France has taken the lead in the fight against ocean protection, in spite of its grand declarations and diplomatic efforts to co-chair the “High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People”. 

The United Nations can still avoid the international shame of having entrusted a staunchly climate-wrecking and anti-ecological government with the task of organizing and hosting the next Ocean Conference, which is supposedly to be held in France in 2025. Our global climate trajectory depends on our ability to stop climate and ocean offenders, among which Macron’s government, which has now managed to secure its seat in this infamous shortlist.

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