Macron abandons the ocean and French fishers in favor of destructive industrial fishing

It’s a betrayal of the nation’s interests. A betrayal of the promises made to  youth on climate. A « dirty deal » which France is accustomed to in Brussels. During the trilogue negotiations which closed at 8pm on 29 Sept. in Brussels, France stubbornly defended a devastating fishing technique called “demersal seining” against the unanimous opposition to this industrial gear by French fishers, citizens and 143 Members of the French Parliament.

The ban on demersal seining was an urgent measure that was eagerly awaited by coastal fishers facing the urgent need to safeguard marine resources and their fragile economic balance.

The European Parliament had voted in favor of banning demersal seining on July 12 thanks to an amendment tabled by Green MEP Caroline Roose, but the ban was rejected by the EU Council during the trilogue tonight.

Despite a massive and transpartisan mobilization of 143 French MPs who cosigned MP Sébastien Jumel’s resolution calling for a ban on demersal seining, despite an identical request borne by more than 120 elected officials from various political sides in an op-ed published in Le Monde, despite the will of 98% of coastal fishers, despite the numerous letters sent to the government (Xavier Bertrand for the North of France, Olivier Leprêtre for the North of France Regional Fishing Comittee, Dimitri Rogoff for the Normandy Regional Fishing Comittee, and a letter from the Normandy fishers’ organization), despite the call of over 50,000 citizens signatory to the BLOOM petition against demersal seining, the Macron government has chosen to sell the French coastline and the small family businesses of coastal fishers to the voracious appetite of Dutch industrial fleets, which are repeatedly involved in fraud, corruption and illegal fishing.

Yesterday, an investigation of the Dutch media NRC revealed the fraudulent nature of Dutch industrial vessels: the financial gain generated by fraud can reach 500,000 euros per year per vessel and “some fishers are even susceptible to organized crime and are involved in drug trafficking“. France has thus chosen to support an industrial fishery with mafia-like practices to the detriment of traditional coastal fishers, anchored in the territories from generation to generation. 

This scandal will have disastrous economic consequences for fishers. They have already paid a heavy price with electric fishing that devastated the port of Dunkirk“, analyses Laetitia Bisiaux, research campaigner at BLOOM. Emmanuel Macron will be accountable for the bankruptcy of coastal fishers in the North of France and Normandy whose small fishing vessels find themselves subject to brutal direct competition with 30-meters ultra-technological industrial vessels.

According to an account by Philippe Calone in Le Monde, the CROSS (regional operational center for surveillance and rescue) asks them to “clear” when demersal seiners arrive in their zones, as this fishing technique does not allow the presence of other vessels. For years, bitterness has been growing among the fishers, which French authorities are now definitively abandoning.

Shameful loyalties brought to light

The fight against demersal seining has exposed in an unprecedented way the government’s loyalties in matters of fishing and marine conservation. The French government has aligned its position with the French Fisheries National Committee (@CNPMEM), supposed to represent all French fishers in theory, but actually representing industrial interests, notably the Dutch, which seem determined to eliminate small-scale fishing and coastal fishers. The Macron government has not only betrayed citizens and coastal fishers, it has actively defended industrial predators by using false arguments such as the fact that a ban on demersal seining would jeopardize the entire CFP (Common Fisheries Policy). This is not true. And they knew that. (see below “To go further”).

The Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, even got personally involved in order to undermine and discourage the mobilization of French MPs against this disastrous fishing method.

At the initiative of MP Sébastien Jumel, a European resolution co-signed by 143 deputies was tabled and presented at the National Assembly on September 28.

MPs insisted on the deleterious fishing model that France has been supporting in complete contradiction of Macron’s promises of “ecological excellency”.

Claire Nouvian, founder of BLOOM reacted by saying “each denial of democracy, each abandonment of small-scale fishers, each blow to the climate, each disregard for the will of citizens, digs the furrow of a deep bitterness and a feeling of powerlessness that make us fear the worst for the future of the French Republic” .

BLOOM will analyze in the coming days the detailed position emanating from the trilogue negotiation to see how to act on this scandal.

To go further

A ban on demersal seining would NOT destroy the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Article 5, 2° of the CFP and its Annex 1 define the rights of access to the territorial waters of each Member State by the fishing vessels of other Member States. These access rights have in practice perpetuated the historical rights and neighborly relations existing before the CFP was established in 1983.

These rights thus apply to categories of vessels that benefited from these historical rights and neighboring relations, hence the use of the term “traditionally operating vessels” in Article 5, 2°.

This article, which is normally renewed every 10 years, expires at the end of the year 2022. It is therefore necessary to extend the date (this is one of the issues at stake in the trialogue on 29 September). Otherwise, access to territorial waters would no longer be limited to vessels with historical rights, but any vessel could access them.

This does not mean that obtaining the exclusion of demersal seines would destroy Article 5 and its Annex 1. Quite the contrary. It is the fact that Dutch fishermen, who have historical rights in French waters, use a technique that has developed enormously in recent years and that did not exist at the time of the establishment of the CFP, that puts the CFP at risk. These vessels are in fact taking advantage of these rights to use a new fishing technique that has no characteristics of a traditional activity.

This is what is blowing up the CFP. With this “invasion” by vessels that are not “traditionally operating”, the reservation of the coastal zone by artisanal small-scale fishing becomes impossible. This is completely contrary to the spirit and the text of Article 5.

Article 5 of the Common Fisheries Policy is the right legislative vehicle to prohibit access to demersal seine vessels in territorial waters.

A legal study was commissioned on this amendment by the rapporteur Mr. Karleskind. It turned out that there was no problem.

Article 5 of the CFP allows for the maintenance of so-called historical access rights in territorial waters for foreign vessels traditionally operating in these waters. And this is important to stress TRADITIONALLY. In order to catch certain species, Belgian and Dutch vessels can come and fish in Normandy and Hauts-de-France waters. It is admittedly not specified for the Channel what type of gear can be used. On the other hand, for the sardine fishery in Spanish waters and the Bay of Biscay, what traditionally means is specified: “activities involving the species listed above must be carried out in accordance with, and within the limits of, the activities carried out during the year 1984”. 1984 is the reference year chosen because Spain officially joined the EU in 1985. Therefore, if the gear used at that time was a net, trawl or line, the vessels must use the same fishing technique as at the time of the implementation of the CFP.

At the time of the creation of the Common Fisheries Policy, the demersal seine did not exist in the Channel. They were conventional trawls. Historical rights on demersal seine do not exist. The amendment voted by the Parliament on July 12, 2009, therefore, corrects the drift observed in the interpretation of Article 5 of the CFP.

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