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Tuesday 14 November 2023

How Breton fishermen set out to rescue their emblematic crawfishery.

As if to mirror the French - fifty years ago crawfish were all but wiped out in the waters off Cornwall. Since then, they have not been targeted at all and in the last few years crawfish have seemingly made a comeback. But, have we learnt anything from the past?


Crawfish are one of the most emblematic species of Brittany and yet it is also one of the least known. Before WWII, crawfish (known as red lobster in Brittany) lived, as in Cornwall, in abundance along their coasts. For years, it supported hundreds of families of fishermen, wholesalers and fishmongers. 

And then, as is often the case, the man's eyes were bigger than his stomach. From the pot he went to the net, much more effective! Fishing effort has increased…and the tonnages landed have soared. 50 years later, the stock was exhausted. 

In the last ten years fishermen and scientists have joined forces to save the crawfish, an emblematic crustacean of the Iroise Sea, the species finally seems to be returning to the Breton coasts. The result of management measures taken by the fishermen themselves: increasing the minimum size of the catch, prohibiting the fishing of females carrying eggs, closing fishing during the first three months of the year and, above all, establishing a cantonment area right in the middle of the Armen causeway, which has now become an open-air laboratory. 

The initiative is the work of Guillaume Normand, president of the local fisheries committee in Audierne, who was the first to ring the alarm bell about a species threatened with extinction by almost a century of overfishing. Nearly 850 tonnes of crawfish (caught in pots) were landed at Audierne in 1950, compared to only 15 tonnes in 2010. 

The collapse of the stock was due to three main factors: the quantity of traps placed per boat increased, the size of the boats also increased, and thirdly, the laying of nets in areas that were previously reserved for lobsters has completely destroyed the stock. Martial, a passionate historian, and Yvon, a former lobster fisherman, met to discuss this issue. Yvon explained that the lobster does not move at night, and that Martial, who did not have a watch and measured the sun with his fingers, must not have had this information. Martial knows that the locker is a fishing technique of the future for a profession that must reinvent itself while avoiding repeating the same mistakes of the past.