06 February 2023
Sea Bass Fraud in Normandy: Caught in the Act
06 February 2023
The failure to respect regulations, encouraged by an evident lack of inspection of industrial vessels, is causing the destruction of the ocean and its marine animals. In a video sent by a whistleblower, the constant impunity of industrials who take the risk of committing fraud to increase their profit, has been brought to light.1 In fact, a study revealed that fraud in the Netherlands brings in up to 500,000 euros a year per ship.
On 2 February 2023, in the Port of Le Havre, a French fisher spotted a 38 meter long Belgian ship, the ‘Windroos’ Z98, unloading its fish catch into a lorry without weighing it.
The Z98 practices a technique of destructive fishing: beam trawl fishing, which is both unselective as well as being a big fuel-guzzler. It was on this type of gear that industrials adapted equipment for electric fishing, a practice that BLOOM had banned in Europe in 2019.
The European regulation imposes a mandatory weighing;2 an indispensable control tool to avoid fraud and trafficking. Faced with this failure to comply with the law, Philippe Calone, the witness on the scene, decided to alert the police to request an inspection. “The police refused to intervene as it had not received instructions to inspect this ship. So I decided to call the French National Fisheries Surveillance Centre to ask for an explanation”, stated Calone, fishing manager in Normandy.
The person he spoke to at the French National Fisheries Surveillance Centre said there is a “joint control plan” between France and Belgium allowing the vessels to avoid this obligation. The vessel would therefore not have been fraudulent since the weighing would take place in Belgium. The existence of this ‘agreement’ poses a serious problem as the lorry could make a detour to sell a part of its catch illegally, without this being deducted from its quota.
The rest of the story proves that the fisher was right to raise the alarm. In fact, after browsing on Facebook, BLOOM discovered that the captain of the Belgian ship Z98 had publicly posted photos of himself in front of the lorry filled with crates of fish. One of the photos proved to be incriminating: it shows a crate filled with sea bass.
However, it is strictly banned to fish, have in your possession, move, transfer and unload sea bass in February and March due to the “biological recovery” period.
“Measures on European sea bass in the ICES divisions 4b, 4c and 6a and in ICES subarea 7
It shall be prohibited for Union fishing vessels, as well as for any commercial fisheries from shore, to fish for European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) in ICES divisions 4b and 4c and in ICES subarea 7 or to retain on board, tranship, relocate or land European seabass caught in that area.”
This story strikingly reveals the result of the permissiveness of the law and the serious absence of inspections: illegal fisheries, fraud on the quantity of fish fished and illegal practices.
But this blatant offense is not at all an isolated incident: the business of industrial fisheries rests in large part on this system, with the complicity of French and European public authorities. The next day, in Scheveningen and Ijmuiden in the Netherlands, sea bass fished illegally was sold at auction. The two incriminated ships, the Ansgar E104 and the Galibier SCH135, practice demersal seining, a destructive fishing method.3
In the following tables we can see the market price of sea bass (‘bar’ in French) sold illegally in Ijmuiden and Scheveningen:
By focusing on its landing point, the trajectory of the boat SCH135 indicates that it unloaded at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Yet French fishers from the North have fought to implement a systematic inspection PRECISELY to fight against fraud. There are two hypotheses: either there was no inspection, or the inspection was ‘rushed’. In both cases, the result is widespread fraud.
This lack of inspection gives industrials a blank check to pillage the ocean and commit widespread fraud. We have to make the public authorities fight against the separatism of industrial fishing and bring this small group back under common law. It falls to Hervé Berville, French Secretary of State for the Sea, to put an end to the impunity of industrials by implementing mandatory and systematic inspections of boats that leave and sell their catches in auctions abroad.
 See the article in Dutch published 27 September in NRC: https://web.archive.org/web/20220927163410/https:/www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2022/09/27/toezichthouder-geen-grip-op-frauderende-vissers-a4143336
 Article 60 of Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009 provides an obligation to weigh on landing
 See the BLOOM page to find out more on demersal seining: https://www.bloomassociation.org/en/our-actions/our-themes/deep-sea/