France’s radio silence on the ocean

This Friday 6 October an important meeting between European institutions will take place in Brussels to prepare the implementation of the EU Ocean Action Plan. The stakes are high for the climate, marine ecosystems and the future of fishing.

However, despite BLOOM’s request in a letter to Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne for access to the preparatory documents for this meeting in order to ascertain France’s position, there has been no response from the government. In a blatant denial of democracy, no transparency, consultation or co-construction process seems to be planned for the document that will determine French ocean protection policy for years to come.

In a year’s time, France will launch its ‘Year of the Sea’ to prepare for the hosting of the Third United Nations Conference on the Oceans in June 2025. When it comes to inventing an agenda of festivities around the sea, we have to acknowledge France’s exemplary ability in ecological marketing and event communication. But when it comes to implementing European recommendations to protect our waters, France is one of Europe’s worst performers.

On February 21, 2023, the European Commission published its Ocean Action Plan, two years late. The climate and environmental emergency called for the publication of a proposal for a regulation to put our relationship with the ocean on a new footing.

However, under pressure from lobbies, the European Commission’s Action Plan left the responsibility for action to EU Member States. Nevertheless, by recalling existing European law, and setting a timetable for its effective implementation, the Commission established a clear framework to guide ocean protection policies and the transition of the fishing industry:

  • Create real Marine Protected Areas under ‘strict protection’ in juvenile fish breeding and nursery areas by 2030;
  • Ban bottom trawling and dragging in all Natura 2000 areas designated for habitat protection by March 2024, or issue joint recommendations to establish such a ban with the EU Member States concerned;
  • Ban bottom trawling and dragging in all Marine Protected Areas by 2030;
  • Support the sector’s transition to more selective, less destructive and less energy-intensive fishing techniques;
  • Adopt national measures or submit joint recommendations to reduce by-catches and catches of juveniles.


Instead of seeing these recommendations as an opportunity to move the fishing industry towards socially and ecologically virtuous practices, the trawling lobbies and supporters of the status quo have completely vilified this Action Plan. As a loyal spokesman for the trawl lobby, the French Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, embarked on a large-scale misleading communication operation, presenting this plan as “a pure and simple condemnation of French artisanal fishing, of European artisanal fishing, not in 20 years, not in 10 years, but tomorrow, in 2024” and announcing that France was “totally, clearly and firmly” opposed to banning bottom trawling and destructive fishing techniques in Marine Protected Areas. At the end of a month’s worth of lies, the offices of the French Biodiversity Office in Brest went up in smoke following a demonstration by fishers. Secretary of State Hervé Berville then attempted to close this disastrous sequence of events by claiming victory in vain after having obtained confirmation from European Commissioner Sinkevičius that “the ban on mobile bottom fishing gear would not be imposed on Member States”. This is nothing new so far, since the Action Plan is indeed… just an action plan, to be implemented by the States themselves.

Since then, we have received radio silence from the government on the subject.

Which brings us to the meeting to be held this Friday 6 October 2023 in Brussels, where representatives of the Environment and Fisheries Ministries of the various EU Member States and the European Commission will meet to present and finalize their respective roadmaps for the implementation of the EU Ocean Action Plan.

In order to monitor this crucial process for the protection of European marine ecosystems and prepare for the deadline set by the European Commission for March 2024, BLOOM sent a letter on 28 September 2023 to French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, Minister for Ecological Transition Christophe Béchu and Secretary of State for the Sea Hervé Berville to find out about the French roadmap in this area and request the opening of a consultation to ensure that France will indeed be on schedule.

To date, there has been no response.

No news of France’s roadmap for implementing the EU’s Ocean Action Plan.

On 7 September 2023, the prestigious international scientific journal Nature denounced in an editorial “the disturbing misalignment of promises and action from self-proclaimed ocean champions” and singled out France in particular for its refusal to ban bottom trawling in its so-called ‘protected’ marine areas, as we host the next United Nations Ocean Conference in June 2025.

In the coming months, we’ll be making sure that the French government doesn’t throw the EU’s Ocean Action Plan to the winds, at a time when the future of our waters is at stake, with the adoption of a National Sea and Coastal Strategy, the revision of the Strategic Coastline Documents, the launch of the ‘Year of the Sea’ and the hosting of the United Nations Ocean Conference.

We reiterate our request for access to the preparatory documents for the French roadmap on this Action Plan, and call on the government to initiate a consultation process open to citizens and all stakeholders, so that French policy on the protection and restoration of marine ecosystems is built in a transparent and democratic way.


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