11 July 2023
Nature restoration: a widely supported amendment to protect the ocean and European coastal fisheries
11 July 2023
This Wednesday, 12 July, the 705 Members of the European Parliament will have the opportunity to adopt an amendment to the Nature Restoration Law, which has won the approval of European fishers and citizens alike, to protect the ocean and Europe’s coastal fisheries.
To this day, huge industrial fishing vessels are allowed to come and devastate European coastal waters, destroying marine ecosystems while simultaneously wiping out European coastal fishers through unfair competition.
Fishers as well as citizens are speaking out to put an end to this unjust situation. They are calling on MEPs to adopt amendment no. 78 to reserve coastal waters (within 12 nautical miles) for fishing vessels below 25 meters in length.
A call from French coastal fishers
The battles waged in the European Parliament against electric fishing and demersal seining (also called flyshooting) have already proved that marine NGOs, coastal fishers and citizens all share a common concern when it comes to industrial fishing fleets overexploiting coastal waters and leaving a barren wasteland in their wake.
The Nature Restoration Law, a cornerstone of the European Green Deal, is this legislature’s last chance to finally protect coastal ecosystems and those who depend on them against the assault of mega trawlers and other industrial fishing vessels.
Photo: On the left Stéphane Pinto, artisanal fisher, and on the right Laetitia Bisiaux, project manager at BLOOM.
Stéphane Pinto, artisanal fisher from Boulogne-sur-Mer, testifies for BLOOM on the situation in the Channel, and on the relief of French fishers if the measure were adopted:
“If I had one message to share to all the MEPs, it would be to support the amendment to ban fishing vessels over 25 meters within the 12-mile limit [coastal waters].”
“We’re already in a difficult situation in relation to all these so-called ‘innovative’ fishing techniques… Brexit has excluded [from the UK] a large number of fishing vessels that don’t have a license to work in English waters. A multitude of vessels are thus going to move and overexploit the resource within the French 12 miles.”
“Overexploiting the resource with different fishing techniques, with much larger gear, in ecosystems that can’t support this fishing effort, is dangerous for the future of the profession.”
“I think we need to prioritize local activity, i.e. fishing vessels under 25 meters that operate within the 12-mile limit adjacent to their region. This economy is important for ports like Boulogne and elsewhere, where small vessels sell their fish directly to the local population. We need to defend it as much as possible, in contrast to vessels over 25 meters, which can operate in other countries and compete with small boats that only work locally.”
“This measure was proposed several years ago. It was rejected again and again, but now it is time. In view of the situation in Europe, we need to act now and ban fishing within the 12-mile limit for vessels over 25 meters.”
José, another artisanal fisher we met in the port of Boulogne, paints a dramatic picture of the evolution of his profession.
“The big fisheries have more clout than we do. There used to be 25 fishing vessels here, but now there are only ten or so selling fish. The vessels are ceasing their activity one after the other, there’s clearly a problem.”
“When I was a kid, I used to go net fishing with my father. Today, I have exactly the same equipment. We used to fish for turbot and bearded bass, but today we don’t see any in our nets. With 500 meters of net, we used to fish more than my son does now with 5-6 kilometers of net. There’s a problem with the resource.”
“It’s not getting any better. The little there is left is being caught by large vessels.”
Unfair competition between coastal fishing and mega trawlers
In Europe, coastal fishing plays a major role in the coastal economy: vessels under 24 meters represent 97% of the European fleet and 82% of employment, but land only 28% of total catches.
The remaining 72% of catches are made by… 3% of European fishing vessels, which sometimes fish just a few miles off the coast, to the detriment of less mobile artisanal and coastal fishers, who then have to wait for ecosystems to regenerate after the ravage of these giant industrial nets.
— In Germany, fishing vessels under 24 meters account for 97% of the fishing fleet and employ 76% of German fishers, landing 9% of catches.
— In Spain, fishing vessels under 24 meters account for 92% of the fishing fleet and employ 65% of fishers, landing 22% of catches.
— In France, vessels under 24 meters represent 96% of the fishing fleet, and 83% of jobs, for half of all catches. Vessels under 12 meters, which account for 84% of the fleet and 60% of French fishers, land 23% of catches.
These very mobile industrial fleets methodically syphon an area before going to another fishing area, leaving a desert in their wake. Faced with this unfair competition and to protect the ecosystems on which they depend, the Normandy’s Regional Fisheries Committee (Comité Régional des Pêches de Normandie) is advocating, among other things, for a 25-meter limit for fishing vessels in the Channel.
The European Parliament made no mistake, adopting a resolution in January 2023 stressing that “the viability of small-scale fisheries critically depends on secure access to resources and fishing areas” and calling for “a differentiated approach to the management of small-scale fisheries that includes priority access to inshore fishing areas“.
Massive, unequivocal support from Europeans
An exclusive IPSOS survey of 2,500 Europeans (1,000 in France, 500 in Germany, 500 in Spain and 500 in Italy) reveals the unequivocal support of European citizens for such a measure: 85% of Spaniards and of Italians thinks that “waters close to the coast should be reserved for artisanal fishing, rather than continuing to leave these areas accessible to industrial fishing”. In France and Germany, 81% and 73% of those polled were in favor of such a measure, respectively.
The future of coastal fishing and marine ecosystems in the hands of the European Parliament
Coastal waters are an essential habitat for juveniles of many different fish species. Preserving the physical and biological integrity of these areas is therefore crucial to conserve a wide diversity of species, on which coastal fishers are directly dependent.
If the amendment n°78 were to be adopted on July 12 as part of the Nature Restoration Law, it would effectively resolve a major issue of social justice and environmental protection, that BLOOM fought for years by pushing to ban increasingly destructive fishing techniques such as electric fishing and demersal seining.
It is now up to the 705 members of the European Parliament, and in particular the members of the RENEW group, who have the power to make and break majorities, to rise to the urgent challenges posed by the social crisis in the fishing industry, climate change and the collapse of biodiversity.