Deep-sea trawling debate heats up in France


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
September 23, 2009

French deputies are calling on Jean-Louis Borloo, the country’s minister of ecology, energy, sustainable development and sea, to clarify France’s position on deep-sea trawling in international waters and whether the government intends to support a possible United Nations moratorium.

The questions from deputies Francoise Olivier-Coupeau of Morbihan and Annick Le Loch in the National Assembly on Wednesday were motivated by the recent resignation of Louis Le Pensec.

Le Pensec, a former minister, was chairing a committee established under the Grenelle de la Mer initiative earlier this year to explore the topic of deep-sea fisheries. But he resigned from his role earlier this month, claiming the government had already decided to support a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling in international waters at a UN meeting on 17 to 18 September.

Speaking on behalf of Borloo, who’s currently in New York for the UN Assembly meeting, Transport Secretary Dominique Bussereau responded to the deputies’ questions by emphasizing that France had yet to take a “definitive” position.

“Up until now, France has not taken a definitive position. What motivated the resignation of Louis Le Pensec is the fear of a definitive position by France at the UN. This fear is unfounded. This position is not ready,” he told the National Assembly on Wednesday.

The future of deep-sea bottom trawling has stirred up a small storm in France this month. Following Le Pensec’s resignation, the country’s major fishermen’s group, the National Maritime Fisheries Committee of France, pulled out of the deep-sea bottom trawling committee.

“Engagements outlined in the Grenelle de la Mer do not contain positions whatsoever on suspension of deep-sea fishing activities in international waters,” said the organization in a statement this week.

According to Matthew Gianni of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, approximately eight french trawlers are operating on the high seas in the northeast Atlantic, just outside of European Union waters.

“Data from the UK’s Marine Resources Association Group suggests the value of the high seas catch for these French trawlers was EUR 770,000 in 2006, amounting to about 7 percent of the overall activity for these vessels,” Gianni told SeafoodSource.

The deep-sea catch for the eight French trawlers — “not a significant fishery for the French” — totaled between 500 and 600 metric tons in 2006.

That year, members of the UN General Assembly signed resolution 61/105, which laid out a series of measures that sought to protect deep sea fish species and ecosystems. Most of the rules had to be established by the member countries by the end of 2008. Last week in New York, the UN’s secretary general presented a report on the resolution that found more work is required.

“Despite progress, implementation of the resolution has been uneven and further efforts are needed in this regard, including through the adoption and implementation of conservation and management measures to address the impacts of bottom fishing activities on VMEs vulnerable marine (ecosystems),” said the report.

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