Not a single veritable Marine ‘Protected’ Area in France: a groundbreaking analysis by BLOOM

While the international conference on Marine Protected Areas opens today in Vancouver, BLOOM is releasing a groundbreaking analysis, embarrassing for France, as it reveals that the particularly complex administrative maze that characterizes the network of so-called French Marine ‘Protected’ Areas is actually a caricature of inefficiency that does not correspond to any international criterion and fails entirely to protect the ocean.                       

BLOOM’s researchers have analyzed the status of every French Marine Protected Area (no less than 641 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in total, including 450 in mainland France), and noticed anomalies and absurdities of the French concept of MPAs.

  • On the one hand, there are more than 18 different categories of protection in France, whereas the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) distinguishes only six, and researchers only four for the sake of efficiency and clarity[1];
  • On the other hand, none of these French categories meet the international criteria of a definition of a Marine Protected Area.
  • Marine Protected Areas ‘à la françaises’ are veritable hollow shells, managed by fishers themselves and thus fully authorizing industrial activities within their perimeters.

Useless, costly and absurd, the French network of falsely ‘protected’ marine areas is therefore incapable of providing the expected economic and ecological benefits, particularly the regulation of the climate and the regeneration of marine life and underwater animal forests.

→ Read our full study here (only available in French).

Not a single French category corresponds to a Marine Protected Area

In a groundbreaking report, BLOOM reveals the result of a consistent laborious effort to count the number of French Marine Protected Areas and reconstruct the exact number of ‘MPA’ categories that exist in France, before comparing them with the international criteria of the definition of, strictly speaking, a Marine Protected Area. The result is striking. None of the 18 categories that we listed corresponds to the definition of a Marine Protected Area according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN), which specifically states that large-scale intensive (i.e. industrial) fishing is not compatible with any of the management categories and should not take place in or near Marine Protected Areas.”

The table below summarizes the French problem: no category of protection ‘à la française’ corresponds to a Marine Protected Area in the sense of international standards:

It is impossible to calculate the exact number of categories

BLOOM’s study, led by Paco Lefrançois, reveals another important anomaly: the different categories of MPAs in France are so diverse that it is impossible to determine their exact number. Indeed, French law does not provide any criteria for defining what a Marine Protected Area is. In fact, the legal framework for Marine Protected Areas is like a branching logic of successive accumulations of various texts. At the end of each branch grows a protected site with its own governance, unique management objectives and specific authorizations and prohibitions (in the rare cases where such regulations exist).

BLOOM counted at least 641 Marine Protected Areas in France, including 450 in mainland France, divided into more than 18 different categories (including at least 14 in mainland France), whereas the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) distinguishes only six and researchers recommend only four for the sake of efficiency and clarity.

We compared each of these categories (marine nature parks, national nature reserves, Natura 2000 sites, among others) with the definition of a protected area according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which specifically states that “large-scale intensive (i.e. industrial) fishing is not compatible with any of the management categories and should not take place in or near Marine Protected Areas.” The result is disastrous: none of the 18 categories of Marine Protected Areas ‘à la française’ correspond to the framework set by the IUCN.

Faced with what is proving to be a truly complex labyrinth, it is useless to expect the French administration to efficiently manage or even publish an exhaustive overview of the regulation of marine fisheries, which is interwoven with tangled legal and administrative layers. It is simply impossible as the regulatory regime associated with each of the 721 Marine Protected Areas is the result of one sole construction.

A Kafkaesque compartmentalization orchestrated by and for industrial fisheries

The only people able to understand this compartmentalization are those who benefit from it, i.e. the representatives of industrial fisheries, particularly the maritime fisheries and aquaculture committees, l’Union des Armateurs à la Pêche de France (The French Fishing Ship-owners Union) or l’Association Nationale des Organisations de Producteurs (The National Association of Producer Organizations), who have a tight grip on MPA governance. They are concerned in the drawing up of standards and the management of sites at every stage of the process, in such a way that at the end of each category of MPA (marine nature parks, national nature reserves, Natura 2000 sites, etc.), there is a hollow shell that authorizes powerful fishing methods that Marine Protected Areas are supposed to prohibit; to such an extent that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, this network of ‘paper parks’ does not offer any more regulations inside its perimeters than it does outside.[2]

France needs to get its act together: the climate cannot wait.

This alarming situation, coming at a time of unprecedented collapse of life and climate change that jeopardizes the very possibility of humans inhabiting the planet, deserves a determined change at the highest level of government. Emmanuel Macron announced that we should “simply double the rate of effort compared to what we have done in the last five years”. The IMPAC5 Conference in Canada is an opportunity for France to start treating the ocean as an ally in the fight against climate change rather than an enemy. Barely two months after torpedoing the marine component of the COP15 Global Biodiversity Agreement, France is still stubbornly refusing to bring its falsely ‘protected’ marine areas in line with international scientific recommendations. On the contrary, the government is trying to legitimize a protection model ‘à la française’ that lacks ambition and avoids defining a clear normative framework for Marine Protected Areas at any cost.

Ahead of the next UN Ocean Conference, to be hosted by France in Marseille in 2025, the government must raise its ecological ambitions by announcing that it will bring its actions into line with international standards. This starts with banning all industrial activity, including bottom trawling, in Marine Protected Areas and “strictly” (i.e. fully) protecting 10% of French waters by 2030.

Banning all extractive activities in these “strictly” protected areas and reserving the rest of the Marine Protected Areas for artisanal fishing, is what would, in fact, put France, Europe’s leading maritime power, in line with its commitments and responsibilities. 

 

NOTES:

[1] Level of protection here: https://mpa-guide.protectedplanet.net/explore/levels-of-protection/by-level. Scientific publication here: Grorud-Colvert et al. (2021), The MPA Guide: A framework to achieve global goals for the ocean.

[2] Since then, industrial fishing has had access to almost the entire territory, and half of these vessels’ fishing activity took place in MPAs in 2021, according to BLOOM’s study, The assault of industrial fishing in French so-called marine “protected” areas.

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