20 February 2023
Serial Fraud in the Industrial Fishing Sector: BLOOM Files a Complaint
20 February 2023
On 16 February 2023, BLOOM filed a complaint with the French Public Prosecutor’s Office of Le Havre and Boulogne-sur-Mer against four vessels, two Belgian and two Dutch, which illegally unloaded and sold a species prohibited to fishing (sea bass), protected during a biological recovery period. Certain industrial vessels, enjoying a scandalous system of complacency, are infringing this prohibition thanks to the passivity of the French and Dutch authorities, who are turning a blind eye to these infractions and attacks on the environment.(1) A video filmed by an artisanal fisher in the port of Le Havre and an investigation carried out by BLOOM have established the abundance of cases of illegal fishing.
This case of fraud occurs at a particularly tense time between the French State and the coastal fishers that France abandoned in Brussels in September 2022 by refusing to ban demersal seining. This destructive fishing method practiced by Dutch industrial fishers was defended by the French State against the interests of its own fishers and despite the ecological and social devastation that it causes on the coastline. The fraudulent vessels that BLOOM and the artisanal fisher Philippe Calone are pinpointing are namely a demersal seiner as well as a beam trawler (an extremely destructive method that scrapes the seabed with heavy chains and large metal frames).(2)
Tired of reaching out to Hervé Berville, Secretary of State for the Sea, in vain, BLOOM and the fisher Philippe Calone decided to lodge a complaint with the Public Prosecutor in order to mitigate the French State’s complacency and obtain justice for the marine animals and the coastal fishers.
A series of fraud cases
Illegal fishing is a major threat to the ocean and the restoration of fish populations, depleted by decades of overexploitation and destructive fishing methods. Since 1 January 2016, European regulations have prohibited fishing for sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax) during the months of February and March in the English Channel and part of the North Sea to respect the breeding period of the fish. Outside this period, only liner catches and the (high number of) trawler by-catches are allowed to be unloaded.
In spite of this, on 2 February 2023, BLOOM received a video from the artisanal fisher of Le Havre, Philippe Calone, showing the Belgian vessel ‘Windroos’ transferring its catches directly into a truck without weighing them, which is absolutely mandatory. After being alerted to the issue, the local police refused to intervene because they had not received any instructions to do so. A few hours later, the captain of the vessel took a photo of the truck filled with boxes of fish and publicly posted his pictures on Facebook. One of these boxes contained sea bass.
A similar fraud is taking place in Boulogne-sur-Mer
On 1 and 2 February 2023, the Dutch vessels ‘Stella Polaris’ and ‘Galibier’, which use demersal seines, unloaded their fish, which was then transported by truck to the auctions in IJmuiden and Scheveningen in the Netherlands. A fisher provided BLOOM with the sale sheets of these vessels which indicate that among the catches, sea bass was sold.
On 6 February 2023, BLOOM was again alerted because the Belgian vessel Z.300 declared that it had sold sea bass at the IJmuiden auction according to its sales form. Its trajectory on the Global Fishing Watch site shows that this vessel fished in the French Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which allows BLOOM to file a complaint with the Public Prosecutor of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Daily cases of fraud that devastate the ocean and reveal the dishonesty of the industrial sector
In one week, four other cases of sea bass sales at the IJmuiden fish auction in the Netherlands were reported to BLOOM, all of which practice demersal seine fishing. The complaint does not concern them because they were not unloaded in France or fished in French waters.
- The British vessel E104 on 3 February 2023
- The Dutch vessels UK95, KW36 on 6 February 2023
- The British vessel LT43 on 6 February 2023
A lack of control encourages fraudulent practices
This inadmissible fraud is encouraged by the absence of controls. Indeed, Belgium and the Netherlands were already singled out for a lack of control by the European Commission and received ‘reasoned opinions’ in 2022,(3) i.e. a formal request to comply with EU law (a reasoned opinion is the last step before the Member State is taken to court).
The lack of control of industrial vessels feeds a deep feeling of bitterness and injustice among French coastal fishers who regularly report to BLOOM the unpunished abuses they witness. Simple solutions exist to protect marine animals and artisanal fishers from these cases of fraud. In France, when Annick Girardin was Minister of the Sea, BLOOM supported the demands of the fishers of the Hauts-de-France in 2021 and obtained the implementation of weighing inspections in Boulogne-sur-Mer in January 2022. Since then, it has been impossible to access the exact statistics of these controls. Having received no response from the French administration regarding the requested list of controls carried out and infringements committed since 2009 (the year that the European regulation on vessel control came into force), BLOOM referred the matter to the French Commission for Access to Administrative Documents (CADA) on 2 January 2023.
Faced with the problem of chronic complacency from the Directorate of Fisheries (DGAMPA) towards the industrial segment of the fisheries sector, today BLOOM is asking the French Prime Minister Mrs Elisabeth Borne to take up the case to put an end to the administration’s wrongdoings and defend the general interest of citizens, the climate and marine biodiversity.
Mrs Borne, responsible for ecological and energy planning, must be the guarantor of the health of marine ecosystems and ensure that activities at sea stop abusing France’s greatest climate ally: the ocean. Before France hosts the United Nations Ocean Conference in 2025, Mrs Borne faces a major challenge to stop the most destructive activities at sea. Starting by putting an end to industrial fisheries’ free passes and controlling their activities would be a first step – a giant one – in the legal void that characterizes the current situation.
(1) The fraudulent practices of Dutch industrials have been abundantly outlined by Dutch inspectors themselves, who are facing a lack of intentional means: in fact, only two Dutch inspectors are carrying out inspections on the 400 million kilos of pelagic fish caught each year. The article states that controls that are too strict would be a major loss for Dutch ports as companies would land their catch elsewhere. Source 1: https://www.groene.nl/artikel/twee-inspecteurs-voor-de-totale-zee ; source 2: https://web.archive.org/web/20220927163410/https:/www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2022/09/27/toezichthouder-geen-grip-op-frauderende-vissers-a4143336
(2) Ifremer (‘Institut français de recherche pour l’exploitation de la mer‘ or ‘French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea’) describes the beam trawl as follows: ‘a bag-shaped net attached to a rigid frame, usually metal. This frame ensures the horizontal and vertical opening. The vertical opening is about one meter. The beam trawl is heavily weighted to allow good contact with the bottom despite the towing speed of 5 to 6 knots. Chains are placed at the front of the net in the lower part to lift the fish from the sediment and into the trawl. The entire structure and chains can weigh up to 4 tons.’ https://peche.ifremer.fr/Le-monde-de-la-peche/La-peche/comment/Les-engins/Chalut-a-perche
(3) For Belgium: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/INF_22_1769
According to the press release from the European Commission: ‘The Netherlands fails to implement an effective control, inspection and enforcement of essential aspects of weighing, transport, traceability and catch registration. On 30 October 2020, the Commission addressed a formal notice to the Netherlands after having made a list of a certain number of serious shortcomings. However, the Commission finds that the Netherlands still have not taken the necessary measures to resolve all noted shortcomings.’