BLOOM sues the French government’s MPA definition before the State Council

Paris, 7 October 2022 – BLOOM challenges Macron’s government before the French State Council regarding an anti-ecological decree that undermines ocean protection. Concurrently, BLOOM releases an exclusive investigation, which reveals that industrial fishing activities in French marine so-called ‘protected’ areas are just as intense as in adjacent non-protected waters.

In the absence of a response from the government and after a compulsory four-month period concerning the appeal filed by BLOOM on 8 June, BLOOM has decided to sue the French government before the State Council about its MPA « high protection » decree (1), as it poses serious threats to the ocean and marine ecosystems. The text dramatically reduces the protection of ‘marine protected areas’. Just a month before the Climate COP27 and two months before the Biodiversity COP15, BLOOM calls on judicial authorities to protect French waters from the extractive bias of the Macron government, which systematically fails to protect the climate and biodiversity despite multiple media-savvy declarations. 

→ Read Claire Nouvian’s op-ed in Le Monde about the government’s cynical calculation with its MPA decree

BLOOM also releases today a groundbreaking study proving that in France, so-called ‘marine protected areas’ (MPAs) are not protected at all. BLOOM’s research, conducted by Paco Lefrançois and using satellite data from fishing vessels (2), reveals that in 2021, industrial fisheries spent almost half their time (over 47%) fishing in supposedly ‘protected’ areas.

The time span of the analysis – from 1 January 2015 to 31 July 2022 – reveals that industrial vessels now spend as much time in the so-called ‘protected’ areas as in waters that are not protected. Indeed, in France, it is perfectly possible to extract resources or to fish with towed bottom gears that scrape the seabed, such as bottom trawling or demersal seining, in so-called ‘protected’ marine areas.

→  Read the comprehensive results of BLOOM’s study

The ‘protected’ areas promoted by France, such as the Mer d’Iroise Marine Park, are utterly ineffective at protecting marine ecosystems. In 2021, industrial vessels spent almost half their time (over 47%) fishing in the ‘protected’ areas of metropolitan France. For the year 2021 alone, fishing techniques that act as true climate bombs and threats to biodiversity because they scrape the seabed and/or catch vast amounts of fish such as trawlers, have spent some 274,000 hours in these deceptively ‘protected’ marine areas but truly ‘paper parks’.

While the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has clarified that all industrial activities must be banned from a marine area in order for it to be called ‘protected’ (3),  Macron’s government has chosen to issue a decree that gives a blank check to destructive activities within ‘strong protection’ zones, which should, by definition, be the most protected of all protected areas.

The decree — issued on 12 April 2022 — indeed proposes to classify as ‘strong protection zones’ marine areas in which industrial activities are not formally prohibited. In other words, this decree ‘launders’ destructive activities in ‘strong protection’ areas, when these areas should prohibit all human activities, not only the most destructive types. 

It is worth noting that the international community agreed that any ‘marine protected area’ should prohibit industrial activities and infrastructures (including trawling, resource extraction, etc.) and that within marine protected areas, there could exist different levels of protection, including ‘strict protection’ or ‘no-take’ zones, which prohibit all human extraction, even artisanal fishing which uses passive gear on vessels under 12 meters.

It is obviously these strict ‘no-take’ zones that provide spectacular restoration of marine ecosystems and the greatest ecological, climatic and socio-economic benefits, allowing fish stocks, and thus the surrounding fisheries, to recover and replenish.

→ See the call of 300 scientists for truly protected marine areas

In 2020, the European Union has itself set the goal of protecting 30% of its waters, of which one third (i.e. 10%) should be under ‘strict protection’. But despite all the pledges made by Emmanuel Macron, his government is undermining Europe’s ecological ambition for the ocean by creating a legal definition into which extractive industries will be able to continue their destructive activities in supposedly ‘protected’ areas.

On 21 September 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron announced at the United Nations General Assembly in New York that “we must protect our carbon sinks and our treasures of biodiversity together”. A few weeks before the Climate COP27 and the Biodiversity COP15, France must move from words to actions and adopt a ‘strict protection’ regime that complies with international scientific recommendations in 10% of its waters, and ban industrial fishing, including bottom trawling, in all its marine areas labelled as ‘protected’.

Notes and References

(1) Decree n°2022-527 of April 12, 2022 taken in application of Article L. 110-4 of the Environmental Code, defining the notion of strong protection and the modalities for the implementation of said strong protection.

(2) BLOOM analyzed the trajectories of industrial fishing vessels in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Metropolitan France using Global Fishing Watch data.

(3) This definition is derived from the IUCN recommendations, as well as the guidelines for their application. “The World Conservation Congress […] CALLS ON governments to prohibit environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructure development in all IUCN categories of protected area”. “IUCN Resolutions, Recommendations and other Decisions World Conservation Congress Honolulu, Hawaii, United States of America, 6–10 September 2016”, September 2016.

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