Which model for the fisheries sector?

As every year, some of the largest fishing vessels in the world — sometimes over 140m in length — are currently roaming the Channel, provoking the outcry of French and British fishers due to their frightening efficiency.[1] But, their presence is completely legal. As was the case with electric trawlers, the Netherlands dominates this despicable fishing activity: almost all of the huge trawlers observed in the English Channel in recent weeks are owned by Dutch companies, although a few are registered in France,[2] Germany,[3] or Lithuania[4] (see “To go further”).

Subsidies galore

These huge trawlers are obviously only economically viable thanks to one thing: public subsidies. One of the most blatant examples of these subsidies is the fisheries agreements between the European Union and many African countries.[5] Through them, most of the trawlers observed in the English Channel are also active for part of the year in the waters of Morocco and Mauritania, targeting horse mackerel and sardinella, which are entirely crush to flour for the needs of aquaculture.[6]

In 2008 and 2009 only, European trawlers fishing in Mauritanian waters spent around €10 million (on the 21 received by this country) for around 550,000 tonnes of fish caught. [7] But if European taxpayers had not paid the rest of the bill, European industrialists would have had to pay an additional €80 million to plunder African waters. “Without this public money, these absurd practices would not exist. Imagine the amount of public money at stake if 80 million euros in subsidies are disbursed in two years. And all this to make fishmeal! ” outraged Frédéric Le Manach, scientific director of BLOOM.

A model to be completely revised

Faced with the indignation of fishers, NGOs and citizens towards these giant trawlers, the French government adopts the policy of “langue de bois”, considering that “the activity of these vessels has no impact on the fishing possibilities of French vessels“.[8] A totally unacceptable response that demonstrates once again the collusion between industrial lobbies and the government. From there to seeing it as a consequence of the sprawling empire of the two main Dutch companies Parlevliet & van der Plas and Cornelis Vrolijk,[9] it is indeed only one step…

This raises the legitimate question of the model of the fisheries sector, based on granting powerful industrialists aid financed by public money and privileged quotas that allow them to monopolise a common good (see “To go further”), without fairness for local small-scale fishers and the survival of the economic and social cohesion of the coasts affected by these predatory practices.

At a time when negotiations are taking place between the three European institutions (the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the Union) to allocate the next €6 billion European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), it is absolutely crucial that policy makers show political courage to change the course of the negotiations which are shaping up to be disastrous for the ocean and small-scale fishers. Top priority must be given to the preservation of marine ecosystems and small-scale fisheries.

To go further

List of the mega-trawlers active in the Channel and under Dutch ownership

Vessel Registration Flag Size Company
AFRIKA NLD199802182 Netherlands 126.22 m Cornelis Vrolijk
ALIDA NLD198400326 Netherlands 99.94 m Willem van der Zwan
ANNIE HILLINA NLD198100312 Germany 86.33 m Parlevliet & van der Plas
CAROLIEN NLD199702087 Netherlands 126.22 m Cornelis Vrolijk
FRANK BONEFAAS NLD199301863 Netherlands 119.65 m Cornelis Vrolijk
HELEN MARY DEU000300601 Germany 116.7 m Parlevliet & van der Plas
MAARTJE THEADORA NLD199902581 Netherlands 140.8 m Parlevliet & van der Plas
MARGIRIS NLD198502210 Lithuania 136.12 m Parlevliet & van der Plas
PRINS BERNHARD NLD198300393 France 82.78 m Cornelis Vrolijk
SANDETTIE FRA000716999 France 86.19 m Cornelis Vrolijk
ZEELAND NLD198901025 Netherlands 114.87 m Cornelis Vrolijk

A quota allocation that benefits the largest

How do these vessels monopolise a common good to the detriment of small-scale artisanal fishermen and European citizens? In France, fishing quotas are allocated on the basis of “anteriority of catches”, i.e. on catch declarations between 2001 and 2003. This system therefore rewards the vessels that have fished the most – or even cheated to inflate their figures. In addition, the French administration has delegated the allocation of quotas to “producer organizations”, whose opacity, severely criticized by the Competition Authority, favors a clientelist system that has been denounced by small-scale fishermen and NGOs for many years. [10]Other countries such as the Netherlands have introduced individual and transferable quotas,” says Sabine Rosset, Director of BLOOM. “Thanks to this mechanism, fishing rights are allocated to the highest bidder and are therefore concentrated from year to year in the hands of a few extremely rich industrialists, who take over from small-scale fishermen.”

[1] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/10/04/trawler-14-times-size-uk-fishing-boats-plundering-fish-british/

[2] For example, PRINS BERNHARD is owned by Cornelis Vrolijk.

[3] For example, ANNIE HILLINA and HELEN MARY are owned by Parlevliet & van der Plas.

[4] For example, MARGIRIS is also owned by Parlevliet & van der Plas.

[5] These agreements allow European vessels wishing to do so to access the waters of third countries outside EU waters in order to catch the available fish.
See e.g. Le Manach et al. (2013) European Union’s public fishing access agreements in developing countries. Disponible à : https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0079899.

[6] Voir : https://www.bloomassociation.org/dossier-peche-minotiere/.

[7] Anon. (2011) Evaluation ex-post du protocole actuel d’accord de partenariat dans le domaine de la pêche entre l’Union Européenne et la Mauritanie, étude d’impact d’un futur protocole d’accord.

This volume roughly represents the quantity of fish caught each year by all French vessels.

[8] https://agriculture.gouv.fr/le-point-sur-la-presence-de-chalutiers-industriels-au-large-des-cotes-normandes

[9] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2018/629176/IPOL_STU(2018)629176_EN.pdf

[10] For more information: www.autoritedelaconcurrence.fr/sites/default/files/commitments//15a19.pdf

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