France’s sabotage of the COP15 biodiversity summit’s marine protection objectives

Fake Marine Protected Areas, a real endorsement of industrial fishing: a groundbreaking analysis on maritime protection policy in France from 2009 to 2022. 

While the COP15 biodiversity summit begins on Wednesday 7th December 2022 in Montreal, the stakes for the preservation of life and the restoration of natural habitats are unprecedented, the European Union’s negotiation mandate has been ransacked at the European Council by Member States opposed to the real protection of the ocean, at the forefront of which are France and the Netherlands, unwavering allies of industrial fishing lobbies.

As such, instead of aiming for the European objective of 30% of genuine maritime protection, including a third in full protection(1), the EU’s mandate no longer mentions the objective of 10% of ‘strict’ protection and is content with speaking about 30% of global protection without specifying exactly what is to be understood by that statement.

Belgium has tried in vain to save the 10% ‘strict’ protection objective from disaster, recognising that completely protecting (i.e. prohibiting all human activities) 10% of European waters is the most urgent and effective measure to regenerate the diversity of species and marine animal forests, devastated by decades of acute overexploitation and destructive fishing methods such as bottom trawling.

Less than 1% of waters in the European Union are really protected(2). France, the top European maritime power, has a significant influence in the EU’s environmental indifference towards ocean matters. The French exclusive economic zone represents 45% of European Union waters thanks to its overseas territories. Yet, France only protects 4% of the totality of its waters. In mainland France, where the pressure of industrial fishing is the most severe, only 0.005% of waters are really protected on the Atlantic, Channel, North Sea coastline and 0.094% on the Mediterranean coastline. France makes a lot of noise about its Marine Protected Areas – President Macron announced spectacular protection figures of “more than 30% of protected areas” to the media before the presidential election in 2022 – but the reality is something else entirely. Shipping vessels can exploit more than 99.9% of French waters(3). Two recent studies from BLOOM(4) have revealed that so-called French Marine “Protected” Areas do not protect anything at all: destructive industrial activities in these areas are continuous and entirely authorised. Furthermore, the areas, few and far between, which are genuinely protected from human activities, are implemented in such a way as to never disturb the economic interests of the industrial fishing sector.

Read our full report: « Much ado about nothing »

The void of French policy on marine protection is not coincidental. It is, on the contrary, the product of large-scale sabotage undertaken for more than a decade by French public powers. Since the ‘Grenelle de la Mer’ movement in France in 2009, successive governments have promised much in the way of marine protection but have in fact endeavoured to make the stated ambition ineffective in practice.

BLOOM has analysed close to fifteen years of public policies and reconstructs the means and strategies that France has utilised to reach the current practically inexistent level of protection: semantic sidestepping and the rewording of objectives, joint management with industrial fishers, a culture of unsuccessful ‘dialogue’ instead of efficient management, and harmful guidance notes and orders… The manoeuvres used to torpedo the already meagre commitments have been varied and have led to the desired objective: to brand the ban on industrial fishing in Marine Protected Areas taboo and impossible to reach.

The latest deception concerns the substitution of the French objective of 10% ‘strong protection’ for the European objective of 10% ‘strict protection’. In creating a new category of protection, ‘strong protection’, which does not even correspond to the basic international definition of a Marine Protected Area, Emmanuel Macron’s government is not simply reformulating semantics, it is mounting the ineffectiveness of the very concept of a ‘Protected’ Marine Area and is thus orchestrating the conditions of French duplicity with regard to international scientific recommendations and European environmental protection objectives.

→ Read our message to Emmanuel Macron in Le Monde (4 December 2022)

It is through this type of dangerous degradation of the norm that France, the world’s second largest maritime power, is failing to play its designated role; it is helping to maintain the status quo of an overexploited ocean under the sway of industrial fishing at the very moment we need the Earth’s lungs to be able to absorb our excess carbon the most. It is with the motive of curbing France’s international leverage that BLOOM attacked the French Government in front of the Council of State (Conseil d’État) on 7th October this year(5).


(1) European Commision (2021) EU biodiversity strategy for 2030.

(2) This figure comes from a 2019 European Environment Agency report (Marine Messages II : navigating the course towards clean, healthy and productive seas through implementation of an ecosystem‑based approach) which repeats a 2012 study. No more recent figures are available apart from the Marine Conservation Institute database, which is still incomplete for the European Union. The Marine Conservation Institute still estimates, with the data available, that less than 1% of EU waters (excluding overseas territories) are actually protected (MPA Atlas).

(3) According the figures from Claudet (2021) Critical gaps in the protection of the second largest exclusive economic zone in the world.

(4) Two studies published by BLOOM in 2022 showed that (1) in 2021, nearly half of industrial fishing in mainland France took place in so-called “marine protected areas” (see the study entitled “So-called marine protected areas under attack by industrial fishing” dated 7 October 2022), and (2) that the French marine areas under “strict protection” are almost exclusively in inaccessible and globally unexploited areas (see the study dated 24 November 2022 entitled “Zero Ambition: Marine ‘protected’ areas protecting inaccessible and unexploited areas”).

(5) BLOOM sues the French government’s MPA definition before the French Council of State BLOOM (2022)

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