He who spreads lies and fear reaps chaos

On the evening of 30-31 March 2023, the offices of the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB; French: Office français de la biodiversité), the public administration in charge of protecting biodiversity and managing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), was set on fire in Brest, Britanny.

This fire comes after ten days of mobilization of fishers, fuelled by the pyromaniac lies of French Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, who blew on the embers of the discontent of the current French pension reform to sow fear and make it impossible to truly protect the ocean and small-scale fishing.

Let us decipher the successive lies of Hervé Berville.

In the French Senate, 8 March 2023

“The government is totally opposed to this communication and to the implementation of the ban on bottom trawling gear in Marine Protected Areas. Totally, clearly and resolutely. […] It is a bonus for bad pupils, because every country that has established MPAs is now being sanctioned and obliged to ban bottom trawling gear.”

Analysis: after having passed itself off as the champion of maritime protection and having proclaimed on every international stage that it was protecting “more than 30% of [their] waters”, France has dropped its mask and is now comfortable with being formally opposed to the protection of the ocean and even to the protection… of protected areas! This is incredibly frightening.

Lie: The Secretary of State publicly asserts his backwards logic. For him, the ‘good pupils’ are those who, like France, have set up completely bogus Marine Protected Areas that serve no purpose whatsoever since they do not prohibit any destructive activity. According to Hervé Berville, the ‘good students’ are those who destroy the ocean and have created ‘paper parks’, like in France, where less than 0.1% of metropolitan waters are really protected according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Let’s get things straight: the only ‘good students’ are those who really protect the ocean and have implemented European law by applying the ‘Habitats Directive’ (1992) which requires, among other things, the protection of the seabed, especially in ‘Natura 2000’ areas. If we were at all serious, we would already have a network of MPAs worthy of the name, which would have regenerated marine life and fishers’ catches.

If we had real MPAs, small-scale fishers would be their first defenders because they would not want to do without them.


“I will say it again very clearly, France is opposed to the Commission plan because, literally, this plan would condemn French small-scale fishing and lead to its disappearance. Not in 10 years, but tomorrow (…) and above all it would lead, as Pierre Karleskind, Sébastien Jumel and others have mentioned, to only have industrial fishing in our territories.” 

UNBELIEVABLE lie no. 1: MPAs allow for the protection of small-scale fishing, since only small-scale fishing is allowed in protected areas! This is the exact opposite of what Mr Berville claims in this staggering lie.

MPAs are a life insurance for small-scale fishing and make it possible to put an end to the unfair competition that artisanal fishers suffer by being confronted on a daily basis by industrial war machines on their fishing grounds, monstrous vessels sometimes over 80m in length, which Hervé Berville refuses to force out of coastal waters despite our demands, made alongside fishers. The only mandate he is faithful to is the protection of industrial interests.

As for semi-industrial coastal fishing (12-25m), the whole point of planning to not only minimize ecological impacts but also maintain and even create jobs (which is perfectly possible if we choose to make this a priority rather than supporting the destruction of jobs inherent with the industrial scale), is to give coastal fishing the means to convert to low-impact techniques. This is an ecological and social imperative that would be easy to achieve if political power did not protect industrialists who want to make the biggest margins possible on the cheapest possible purchases.

UNBELIEVABLE lie no. 2: With MPAs, we would therefore have exactly the opposite of what Mr Berville claims: we would put an end to the hold of industrial fishing on at least 30% of our territory by 2030. On the other hand, if we allow this government official to act as an unabashed lobbyist for industrial actors, we will, in effect, guarantee the disappearance of small-scale fishing.

As a reminder, Hervé Berville has betrayed French fishers who won, alongside BLOOM, the ban on demersal seining in the European Parliament. Hervé Berville did not support them in the trilogue in Brussels, favoring destructive Dutch industrialists and abandoning French fishers to their scheduled disappearance, as the government had done for electric fishing. Read our press release to refresh your memory.

At the European Council, 20 March 2023

“The banning of trawling [in Natura 2000 areas in 2024 and MPAs in 2030] is something we’re against, firmly against, for three reasons. [… This proposal] also doesn’t create any distinction between the type of fisheries and there’s this blanket ban which doesn’t take into account to have individualized treatment by taking into account specificities which is part of the rules in the EU. So if this proposal were to be implemented you would simply have artisanal fisheries in France and the EU which are decimated not in five to ten years time but as of tomorrow. […] We owe it to [fishers] to take science-based decisions, and science points to the fact that we can reconcile various objectives at the same time.” (From 10:37:56)

Lie no. 1: The 2024 deadline only applies to Natura 2000 zones designated for the protection of the seabed (“designated under the Habitats Directive that protect the seabed and marine species”).

Lie no. 2: For all Marine Protected Areas, the deadline is 2030

Lie no. 3: This plan makes a very clear distinction, as it ONLY targets fishing techniques that scrape the seabed (“mobile bottom fishing”). All other fishing techniques can be carried out in Marine Protected Areas.

Lie no. 4: The need to put an end to fishing techniques that scrape the sea bottom is the subject of a global scientific consensus, endorsed at the IUCN World Congress in Marseille in 2021, which serves as a benchmark on the subject. See also the appeal of 300 scientists addressed to the European Commission in September 2022.


“The government understands and shares the concerns of fishers and above all I share their exasperation and anger at the Commission’s proposal to ban, not in 10 years, but tomorrow, dredging in particular and other fishing techniques which are vital for the economy of our territories and above all which have demonstrated that it is possible to reconcile economic activities with the preservation of the habitat. This is why, as early as 8 March, I announced in the Senate that France was totally opposed to this Commission plan and that the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister at the Agriculture Show also reiterated this.”

Lie no. 1: The ban on dredging and bottom trawling does not concern all waters but only Marine Protected Areas. But since there are, in short, almost no MPAs in France, the first move would be to stop calling everything and anything MPAs.

Lie no. 2: Dredging destroys the habitat, this practice is not compatible with the protection of the sea floor.

Lie no. 3: Dredging is not an option in *real* Marine Protected Areas. But if dredging is vital to employment in certain shellfish production areas (which are more akin to offshore aquaculture with seeding), then the issue is twice as serious:

  1. It is possible that society’s decision is to sacrifice certain ecosystems that are already highly modified and simplified to accommodate impactful methods in order to maintain a controlled level of quasi-aquaculture production. This should be publicly debated.
  2. But why on earth have they chosen to set up so-called ‘Marine Protected Areas’ in areas that are so heavily impacted by the most intrusive human activities for the environment? Why? To make money! By creating fake MPAs, France has granted itself the right to pass itself off as the environmental champion that it is not (and that it now publicly assumes not to be).

Our vision is that the last places to be protected in France from the point of view of marine habitats are probably the areas with the greatest shellfish production. There is no reason why an ecological transition should be impossible there, but it requires a lot of dialogue, reflection, research into alternative solutions and confrontation with economic reality. There are many other places to protect with a higher priority than shellfish areas. If France would stop lying about its MPAs, we would get rid of these fanciful names and start the real work: today, 0.005% of MPAs are located on the Channel and Atlantic coast. Everything remains to be done in terms of designating *real* protected areas. We are starting from almost zero. 


“We need to be precise on this matter. This decision does not aim to ban trawling, but all mobile bottom gears. And so it would mean, for the people of Brittany who are listening to us, that in 2024, we have to tell our shellfish fishers, who have shown for decades that they protect the resource, that they purely and simply have to stop their activities. We would also have to tell the flat oyster producers in southern Brittany that they must cease all activity in 2024, and the coastal artisanal fishers that they must cease all activity.”

Lie: In complete improvisation, Hervé Berville lets his imagination run wild in a form of unfiltered delirium, without any ethical restraint or even concern for plausibility, the French Secretary of State for the Sea takes the stance of a medieval apocalyptic preacher and announces the death of the entire fishing industry.

Hervé Berville has left reality. He no longer mentions Marine Protected Areas, but speaks of a ban on the entire coastline that would apply to all fishing techniques used by coastal artisanal fishers. This alleged ban on all bottom fishing gear by 2024, which is the product of his fertile imagination alone, reveals a dangerous exercise of power for France. Hervé Berville’s pathological tendancy to lie has set fishing ports on fire. The consequences of such false statements are concrete, painful, costly and dangerous: fishers are being bludgeoned and gassed by the police, the offices of the French Office for Biodiversity have been set on fire in Brest. Hervé Berville must answer for his incendiary and deceptive remarks that have heated spirits and spread chaos.

On Actu.fr, 30 March 2023

“France ‘depends on more than 80% of imports for fishery products’, Hervé Berville also recalled. Banning bottom gears from marine protected areas would therefore be a ‘folly for food sovereignty’.”

Lie: Food sovereignty does not depend on the scallop and the flat oyster, systematically given as examples by Hervé Berville. On the contrary, trawling destroys the habitat and generates a high proportion of by-catches (up to 75% for beam trawling).


“The government has been fighting for months for the fishing sector, said Hervé Berville. Whether it is for the elver or fuel aid, we are acting. But there is still a lot to do. The proposal of the European Commission [to ban trawling in marine protected areas] has been felt as a blow by the profession. We will continue to support fishers, maintain that this proposal is not acceptable and would mean the end of small-scale fishing.”

“Let’s stop caricaturing! Fishers are the first protectors of marine resources, they did not wait for NGOs to do so. They are willing to risk their lives to find it! Let’s ask ourselves some questions. What do we want for our country? We want this sector to exist and to remain the most sustainable in the world.”

“We are proud of our fishers. It will require some arbitration: the policy of fisheries is not done in court, we are a democracy. I will go to Brussels next week (Editor’s note: Hervé Berville, already present in Brussels on Monday 20 March at the Fisheries Council, must go this time with a delegation of fishers to speak specifically about the plan of the European Commission, the day is yet to be determined) to defend you. In the meantime, 20 million euros have been allocated to modernize vessels, we must go and get them!”

Lie no. 1: The French government has betrayed French fishers regarding their wish to ban demersal seining and is letting giant trawlers ravage French territorial waters.

Lie no. 2: Marine protected areas will not destroy artisanal fishing. On the contrary, 20% of French waters would be reserved for small-scale fishing.

Lie no. 3: “Fishers are the first protectors of marine resource”? Industrial fishing is the first cause of destruction of the ocean according to the IPBES, the panel of experts on biodiversity.

Lie no. 4: “Fishing policy is not made in court, we are a democracy.” When a State does not respect laws voted democratically, the courts become the last guarantor of the general interest.

Lie no. 5: The modernization of vessels will not save the sector. Public money must be used to start a real transition of the fishing sector. The bleeding will not stop by putting a Band-Aid on a wooden leg.


“I have come to listen to the fishers and their representatives. To tell them what we will continue to defend them and fight against the European Commission’s proposal, which would condemn French fishing.”

Lie: With his brazen lies and political cynicism, Hervé Berville has instrumentalized the issue of MPAs to defend industrial fishers, repeating the same recipe for ruin that have led the sector and the ocean to the ecological and social collapse it is currently facing.

Remove politicians from the equation, let NGOs, citizens, fishers and scientists discuss with method and objective data, and we will find coordinated and ambitious solutions.

Instead of solving society’s problems, the government is generating them.

This is a total political failure.


Share :