Bis repetita… Since July 1, 2021, electric fishing has been banned in Europe. The epilogue of a struggle lasting several years, led by French fishermen with the support of NGOs such as Bloom. It consists of sending electric pulses to fish buried in the seabed to stun them and thus better dislodge them. Formidably effective, but far from having no impact on underwater biodiversity.
It is another fishing practice, considered equally problematic, which is now in the crosshairs: the demersal seine. This afternoon, a trilogue – negotiations which bring together the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union – will examine the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
Five seiners to rake the surface of Paris in one day
On the agenda is an amendment by EELV MEP Caroline Roose, voted by one vote by the European Parliament on 12 July. It aims to prohibit this fishing technique in the French territorial waters of Normandy and Hauts-de-France, in the band of twelve nautical miles (about 22 km). “Which would amount to completely banishing it from our waters since the practice is already elsewhere,” says the MEP.
The demersal seine? Laëtitia Bisiaux, project manager at Bloom, speaks of this technique as an evolution of the trawl, this funnel-shaped net that is dragged by ships. “For the demersal seine, we have two cables, like two arms, which surround a very large area, up to 3 km², she explains. These cables are placed on the seabed and vibrated, causing a wall of sediment and sound that will frighten the fish and push them to reach the center of the circled area. Gradually, the cables are tightened, folding the catches towards the net which only has to be reassembled. »
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Here again, it works too well to be environmentally sustainable, if only because of the quantities of fish that this technique can bring up over large areas. “In a single day of fishing, five purse seiners can rake an area equivalent to the area of Paris”, compares a collective of 120 French deputies, senators and European deputies who signed a tribune published in Le Monde, September 21, to ask for the prohibition of the demersal seine in the whole of the French territorial waters.
The Dutch, once again the most fond of it?
Electric fishing or demersal seine… Each time, the Dutch are the most fond of these techniques. “They have been launched for several years in a technological race, deplores Claire Nouvian, founder of Bloom. It is up to the person who will develop the method to capture the maximum amount of resources and as quickly as possible. And too bad for the others? This is the fear of this group of French parliamentarians, worried about seeing “these enormous Dutch ships”, after “having emptied the North Sea and then falling back on the Eastern Channel”, “melting like predators on the English Channel West,” they wrote. “Like electric fishing in the past”, points out Claire Nouvian.
Sebastien Jumel, PCF deputy for Seine-Maritime and former mayor of Dieppe, does not describe the demersal seine as only anti-ecological, but also anti-social. In particular in France, which has retained an artisanal fishery. According to Bloom, in April 2020, it still represents 70% of the fleet of metropolitan fishing vessels and 52% of jobs in the sector. “By their size, these vessels are subservient to a territory and are therefore the first to be impacted by these purse seiners which empty one fishing area one day and go to another the next day, continues Sébastien Jumel. It is unfair competition. »
French fishermen ready to go back?
It is not all the same the fact that of Dutch ships. Seventy-five seiners have licenses to fish in the English Channel, “but only 54 vessels are active”, counts Laëtitia Bisiaux. In the consignment, Bloom has 19 trawlers flying the French flag, including 5 belonging to Dutch shipowners. That leaves 14 others… “Very often, they have converted to remain competitive and after having alerted the public authorities for years to the problems of cohabitation with foreign purse seiners, continues the project manager to Bloom. The first letters to this effect from the regional fishing committees date from the beginning of the 2010s. They have never been heard. »
Fishermen on the Normandy shores would be ready to back down. This is according to a survey organized in mid-September by the Normandy Regional Fisheries Committee (CRPMEM) and the Normandy Fishermen’s Organization (OPN). Of the 205 fishermen who responded, 98% said they were in favor of banning demersal seine fishing for all fishing vessels, regardless of their flag, in French territorial waters.
France against the tide this Thursday?
However, this would not be the position that France should take to this trilogue. “On the phone, Secretary of State for the Sea [Hervé Berville] tells me that he agrees with the proposal we are making, but refuses to implement it, regrets Sébastien Jumel. He assures us that this is not the right legislative vehicle, nor the time to do so. However, he does not propose a plan B.” Claire Nouvian does not understand the French position any more, “except, once again, to win the case of the industrial fishing lobbies, although very much in the minority” , she berates.
For the director of Bloom, it is indeed a societal choice that is at stake: “that of the fishing model that we want in France”. “Artisanal, which sustains our ports, our auctions, generate local jobs on land… or industrial, in the hands of a handful of boats which empty the resource of a territory to exploit it elsewhere”, abounds Sébastien Jumel. The NGO director and the MP remind us that time is running out if we want to keep the first model standing. They both cite, as a bad signe, the closing of the Dunkirk auction, one of the three private in France, in October 2020, for lack of the artisanal fishermen members being able to supply it with sufficient catches. Bloom sees in it the consequence ofe ten years of electric fishing that it took too long to ban.