08 December 2022
French justice system stalls under pressure to halt overfishing
08 December 2022
Environmental NGOs BLOOM, ClientEarth and DMA (Défense des milieux aquatiques, ‘Aquatic Environment Defence’) have called out the French justice system for their abnormally slow reaction to their case against the French State, which is accused of having illegally authorised overfishing and endangering marine biodiversity.
In May 2020, the three NGOs launched legal action against the French State for the lax fishing limits repeatedly set by the country. France had systematically ignored scientific opinion and authorised years of overfishing of endangered fish stocks.
As a result, stocks such as cod, whiting and eel, are now on the verge of collapse – in violation of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which legally obliged countries to end overfishing “by 2020 at the latest.”
Despite repeated calls addressed to the judge and the French government, no hearing has yet taken place. In Ireland, a similar complaint brought at the same time has already resulted in a hearing and subsequent decision from the Judge. He expressed doubts about the legality of Irish 2020 fishing quotas and referred the case to highest EU Court of Justice.
The French justice system is moving slower than the Irish court. This is particularly bad timing as on December 11, EU fisheries ministers will begin the annual negotiations to set the total allowable catches at EU level. An analysis by ClientEarth shows that over the years France, Ireland and Spain are the countries that have consistently pushed the hardest to go beyond scientific advice when setting annual fishing quotas.
Once again this year, France is leading the revolt against the European Commission’s plan of action to save the European eel from extinction. Even though scientists has been recommending the complete closure of fisheries targeting eels for 20 years, France has been pushing against both scientific advice and the Commission, refusing to take a responsible stance on the impact of human activities, and potentially sealing the fate of the eel.
While the Irish justice system is taking the crisis in the ocean seriously, the silence of the French Court sends the message that the justice system is complacent towards France’s interpretations of European regulations concerning fishing. With that in mind, and with a third of North-East Atlantic fish stocks currently being overfished, hope is low for the meeting of ministers on 11 and 12 December.
BLOOM, ClientEarth and DMA fear that the French government will take advantage of the closed-doors negotiations in Brussels to sideline its environmental promises and illegally enable overfishing.
The fixed fishing quotas set by European Union ministers are agreed in a notoriously opaque process – which excludes environmental advocates from meetings but closely involves the fishing industry which is then allocated 80% of the quotas.
In France, the quotas are divided according to vague criteria and distributed first and foremost to the biggest fishing operators, to the detriment of small artisanal fishing fleets.
This completely contradicts the requirement in the Common Fisheries Policy for equal distribution of quotas using “transparent and objective criteria, including social, environmental and economic criteria”.
Today, the NGOs are demanding their fundamental right to access justice and judicial review. Failing to do so, BLOOM, ClientEarth and DMA will not be able to put an end to the impunity of the French government and force it to scrupulously respect scientific advice as well as transparency and equity in the distribution of fishing quotas.
In May 2020, the NGOs ClientEarth, BLOOM and Défense des milieux aquatiques filed an appeal before the Administrative Court of Paris against the application of EU Council Regulation setting fishing limits for 2020 in the North-East Atlantic.
In one third of cases, these exceeded the advice of scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which is supposed to ensure sustainable fishing, thus allowing overfishing in violation of Common Fisheries Policy objectives.
In 2022, nearly a third of quotas decided in the EU Council of Ministers once again exceeded scientifically advised limits, notably for particularly vulnerable reserves such as cod, eel and whiting.
In October 2022, ClientEarth took a case against all European Ministers before the EU Court of Justice to challenge the 2022 fishing limits thanks to a change of EU rules allowing NGOs to access the Court of Justice of the EU. A ruling in this case is expected in 2023.
“When allocating the fishing opportunities available to them, as referred to in Article 16, Member States shall use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature. The criteria to be used may include, inter alia, the impact of fishing on the environment, the history of compliance, the contribution to the local economy and historic catch levels. Within the fishing opportunities allocated to them, Member States shall endeavour to provide incentives to fishing vessels deploying selective fishing gear or using fishing techniques with reduced environmental impact, such as reduced energy consumption or habitat damage.”
ABOUT THE NGOs
BLOOM is a non-profit organisation founded in 2005 which works for the common good and has set itself the mission of protecting the ocean and social balance that depends on it, restoring biological wealth and marine habitats and fighting against climate change and the collapse of biodiversity. BLOOM has a strong culture of efficiency, results and perseverance. Our objectives are based on four strategic lines of action: scientific research, raising awareness and education, advocacy and legal action. Our campaigns have led, for example, to the ban on deep-sea bottom trawling in 2016 and electric fishing in 2019.
ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.
Défense des milieux aquatiques
Défense des milieux aquatiques is a French charity founded in 2017, which has filed approximately one hundred administrative appeals in the field of fisheries management since 2018. The association has already obtained important judgements concerning dolphins, meagre and migratory fish such as sturgeon, salmon, shad or lampreys. The charity’s ambition is to change French fishery management so that it is finally applied for the benefit of the general interest and the environment.