12 January 2023
The pillaging of African waters: ground-breaking revelations on European tuna lobbies
12 January 2023
Part 2 of the ‘TunaGate’ investigation series
Press release – BLOOM is continuing to dive into the obscure world of tuna fishing and today reveals the shocking results of a ground-breaking study on lobbyists within official delegations during twenty years of negotiations on tropical tuna in Africa, between 2002 and 2022.
BLOOM has led an exhaustive analysis of every negotiating delegation formed by the European Union while, on behalf of 447 million citizens, it negotiates the rights and fishing conditions of European fishing fleets with African and Indian Ocean countries. Today, for the first time, we are shining a light on the overwhelming power of industrial tuna lobbies at the heart of public decisions.
The European Union’s squashing of Indian Ocean countries
Ahead of two meetings on the future of tuna fishing taking place at the end of January, we show that far from respecting the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) objectives of cooperation and sustainability, the European Union, in a shocking generalized collusion with its French and Spanish industrial fishing fleets, is contributing to the overexploitation of fish populations, the degradation of both the climate and the health of the Indian Ocean, as well as maintaining poverty in developing countries.
Our analysis, focusing on 2,778 negotiators from 30 countries making up the delegations at the IOTC annual meetings since 2002, shows that from the moment in 2015 when neighbouring countries demanded a more equal share of marine resources and the implementation of environmental protection measures, the European Union suddenly doubled the size of its delegations from 22 people before 2015 to an average of 40 people after 2015, in order to block any form of environmental progress and economic emancipation in Africa and the Indian Ocean. The European delegation even reached a peak of 70 negotiators in 2021.
A doubling in the number of lobbies within official delegations
This increase comes with a boom in the annual number of lobbyists within the European delegation: the number of defenders of industrial interests – notably those of French and Spanish purse seiners – has gone up from 8 (on average) to 18 since 2015! These figures highlight the excessiveness of the European delegations and the influence of its industrial members, since the European Union only counts 109 vessels registered in the Indian Ocean, including 28 very large purse seiners (mean length: 89.2m). The European Union is now sending one delegate per every two fishing vessels to the IOTC meetings. This is ten times more than Indonesia, the second largest delegation.
The best-known French industrial lobbyist gets to act as ‘deputy’ for France
In a state of peak confusion between general and sectorial interests, we even discovered that in 2019, the representative of the largest French vessels was officially named as ‘substitute’ (i.e. ‘deputy’) of the Head of the French delegation to the IOTC. Mr. Marc Ghiglia, General Delegate of the powerful and omnipresent industrial lobby UAPF (Union des armateurs à la pêche de France or ‘Union of French fishing vessels’ owners’) appears as ‘deputy’ to the Head of the French delegation to the IOTC, Ms Anne-France Mattlet.
Ms Mattlet is the person whose conflict of interest we denounced to the French Public Prosecutor on 14 November 2022, in association with the French anti-corruption NGO Anticor. At the beginning of December, France’s judicial Parquet national financier (France’s financial crimes investigator) announced it is opening a preliminary investigation for illegal conflict of interests. Ms Mattlet was seconded by France to the Europêche lobby for a one-year period in order to influence the European environmental norm (the European Control Regulation).
The Vice President of Europêche, the main European lobby for industrial fishing in Brussels, is none other than Mr. Marc Ghiglia himself. This industry grouping is led by Spanish lobbyist Mr. Javier Garat, shareholder and board member of one of Europe’s largest tuna fleets, Albacora, which owns (among others) the four largest tuna vessels in the world.
The EU’s anti-environmental blackmailing in Africa
At the same time, the EU is blocking proposals coming from African countries to fight the proliferation of ‘Fish Aggregating Devices’ (FADs, the use of which has completely skyrocketed among French and Spanish fishers in recent years), while these artificial rafts deployed on a very large scale but in total opacity contribute not only to the collapse of tuna populations but to that of all marine species. It comes as no surprise that the European Union, monopolized by industrial lobbies, also opposes the transparency of data concerning FADs, regarding their number, geolocation or owners.
The European Union even refuses to accept temporary or spatial bans on FADs in the Indian Ocean, where tuna stocks are the most vulnerable, when such closures exist in all other tuna management organizations where the EU operates.
Indeed, French and Spanish purse seiners now catch well over 90% of their volumes using FADs. 97% of yellowfin tuna – a species considered overfished since 2015 – caught around FADs are juveniles and have, therefore, never reproduced.
The EU position we are highlighting in this report goes beyond the traditional ‘inconsistencies’ that characterize antagonistic objectives of development aid versus maximization of commercial advantages. Here, we denounce a well-planned strategy by the EU and its industrial lobbies to maintain African and Indian Ocean nations in subsistence economies.
Worse even, we denounce the unacceptable position of the EU which uses the suspension of development money as a threat to block environmental progress.
The EU position at complete odds with its development aid objectives
BLOOM fiercely opposes the toxic collusion that exists between public authorities and private lobbies, as it is one of – if not the most – important causes of the destruction of the environment, of economic imbalance between nations and of a lack of confidence in democracy.
Overcoming moral and institutional corruption is possible. Tuna delegations are not constrained by any IOTC or EU rules, as member States have full discretion over their composition. But our study as well as the QatarGate, which is shaking the European Parliament and which the Belgian Federal police has unveiled from an investigation stream starting in fisheries corruption (they were following the money in a case of a fishing agreement between Morocco and the EU), shows that urgent ethical rules need to be adopted to halt the profound damage that industrial interests are causing democracy.
Lobbies are not a fatality
Our second instalment of the ‘TunaGate’ series begs the question of the model of truly ‘sustainable’ fishing (from an ecological and social point of view) that we want to transition to. To start, public authorities representing the environment should be leading all negotiations and regulatory processes that involve natural resources, in full transparency and public accountability. Any exploitation scheme should be balanced against social benefits while minimizing environmental impact. African countries must seize the opportunity to reshape the access they grant to their own resources, which so far only benefits retailers and industrial corporations in Europe and other wealthy nations.
Today BLOOM is addressing a letter to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission asking it to adopt ethical rules banning industrial groups from official delegations of negotiating countries, limiting their access to the negotiations, and ensuring a much better representation of the general interest during the negotiations, as well as a balance in the sizes of delegations. We also ask the European Commission, France, and Spain to adopt strict rules to end a situation which harms nature, the climate and developing economies.
Lastly, BLOOM also requests the European Commission to disclose the identity of each member having taken part in the negotiating delegations on fishing agreements for every African and Indian Ocean country.
We also ask France for the complete list of members belonging to the most obscure lobby of all: the ever-present industrial fishing lobby ‘UAPF’, as well as a comprehensive list of its participation in any official body or meeting.
To go further
Frédéric Le Manach, Scientific Director at BLOOM, co-authored a publication in the scientific journal Frontiers examining the relationship between the subsidies distant fishing nations have received for their development in the Indian Ocean and the current negotiations for the allocation of fishing possibilities within the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).
→ Sinan et al. (2022, 6 décembre). Subsidies and allocation : A legacy of distortion and intergenerational loss. Frontiers.
 From 30th January to 5th February 2023 in Mombassa, Kenya.
 The other vessels are French, Spanish and Portuguese longliners of much smaller size, such as the twenty or so vessels based in Réunion (average length: 16.7 m).
 The ALBATUN DOS (116m), the INTERTUNA TRES (116m), the PANAMA TUNA (115.6m), and the ALBATUN TRES (115m).
 See IOTC catch data at: https://iotc.org/data/datasets.
 See IOTC Rules of Procedure, available at: https://iotc.org/sites/default/files/documents/2022/06/IOTC_Rules_of_Procedure_2022.pdf.