Outcome of the French Environmental Conference

chalutier © pierre gleizes



The French Fisheries Minister Frédéric Cuvillier had tried as hard as possible to avoid the deep-sea file to be on the agenda of the annual French Environmental Conference, but he didn’t succeed. The deep-sea topic was so addressed that it was even chosen as one of the topics mentioned in the Prime Minister’s closing speech on Saturday, September 21. His exact words were (not so bad for a first time) : “I am in favor of France being actively involved in EU discussions to better understand and manage deep-sea fishing.”

 What happened for the file to finally escape the control of the Fisheries Minister’s cabinet?

The gadflies were some politicians and united NGOs : Friends of the Earth, who invited BLOOM to represent them at the round table ” Marine Biodiversity ” (hereby receiving our deepest thanks), WWF, Humanité et Biodiversité. MEPs Sandrine Bélier and Yunus Omarjee also insisted that this matter be dealt with the ambition and courage it deserves. Sandrine Bélier proposed a moratorium on deep-sea fishing, NGOs requested that the position of France be determined in consultation with NGOs.
The debate that Denis Ody of the WWF, Bernard Labbat of Humanité et Biodiversité and Claire Nouvian on behalf of Friends of the Earth have generated was animated. NGOs reminded the Fisheries Ministers’ cabinet and the audience that France blocked the file at the Council of EU Ministers and the positions of Cuvillier’s cabinet were identical to those of industrial fishing lobbies. NGOs have also pointed to the fact that the Minister seemed to honor local electoral interests that do not represent the interests of the French people. Meanwhile, the General Director of WWF France gave similar remarks in the round table “Circular Economy”.
NGOs exposed the essential issues about deep-sea trawl fisheries: there is no challenge in terms of jobs since only nine vessels are concerned in France and no more than 40 % of their catch are deep-sea species. They are extremely destructive of species and marine habitats on top of being subsidized and unprofitable.
The Minister avoided the question and got mixed up talking about exemplary deep-sea fleets that were labeled “MSC” (he does not know his files, as we already knew, see the legendary video of his speech at the National Assembly on artisanal fisheries representing 80% of vessels in France).

The Award of ignorance (or bad faith?) goes to…

The award of “File Ignorance” (or maybe bad faith) goes to MEP Isabelle Thomas (Socialist Party) who dared assert that scientific knowledge about deep-sea species was “extremely accurate”, causing laughter in the room and even a raised eyebrow from the otherwise imperturbable moderator, French researcher Françoise Gaill.

It is daring indeed, knowing that ICES reports and the European Commission’s official Communications about deep-sea species systematically hammer that limited scientific data do not allow reliable stock assessments (see links to these documents here).
The opinion of the European Commission on fishing opportunities for deep-sea species in 2013 and 2014 states: “With only two exceptions, the information available on deep-sea stocks covered by this proposal does not allow scientists to fully assess the stocks status, both in terms of population size or fishing mortality.”

ICES researchers have meanwhile warned of the fact that even in these two cases (black scabbardfish and grenadier), the data used to estimate population status could not be considered reliable because it only relied on fishing vessels data, which were not corroborated by independent scientific surveys. By definition, fishing vessels seek fish and avoid areas which lack resource, so the catch data can be very biased, it can even hide an imminent collapse (see the report WKLIFE II, Sections 4.3 and 4.4, page 37).
Isabelle Thomas then insisted by saying that the main commercial deep-sea species were “either totally at MSY (Maximum Sustainable Yield) or close to it, including bycatch species” (!) This referred to the outrageous remarks found in fact in an article posted on the website of the IFREMER (and nowhere else except in the mouth of the director of the Intermarché fleet and in the newspaper Ouest France, which gave him the floor without verifying the seriousness of his words).

The debate focused on a political position paper of the Ifremer

It is distressing for the many excellent researchers at IFREMER, whose work is marred by a dark politico-industrial – and supposedly – scientific affair.
Brittany MEP Isabelle Thomas pulled a so-called “news report” by the Ifremer to justify her outrageous statements about “sustainable” deep-sea bottom trawl fisheries. This political paper has no official status, it is scientifically unfounded and worth no more than any blog on the Web. By allowing such statements to be made on its Website, the Ifremer has accepted to become the official alibi of the industry. It remains to be seen whether the Ifremer’s new director François Jacq will challenge this non-paper.

This document does not represent the current state of knowledge or opinion of researchers from the Ifremer on deep-sea trawling. However, there are a number of perfectly false statements from a scientific point of view which would not stand a chance to survive a peer review of a serious scientific journal. Note also that the IFREMER was careful not to translate this compromising document, but BLOOM took care of it.
See BLOOM’s article: http://bloomassociation.org/fr/actu-lifremer-et-la-peche-profonde

NGO demands on deep-sea fishing had disappeared as if by chance from the restitution made ​​by the moderator. They were reinstated by the NGOs.

Until the end, the gatekeepers of the Ministry office tried to elude the issue and eliminated NGO requests about deep-sea fishing from the final wrap up, despite the fact that exchanges on that matter had been the longest and most animated of the roundtable.
We have ensured that our requests were reinstated.


Among our demands: that the massive public subsidies from which the fishing sector benefits be fully accessible in total transparency, and that the documents of the French Fisheries Directorate be all made available.
Increased transparency would be a tremendous change for France which is used to a high degree of opacity with regards to fishing matters. The level of opacity reaches unprecedented heights when it comes to the financial flows allocated to the fishing sector.

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