='"loading" + data:blog.mobileClass'>

Saturday 15 June 2024

Artisanal fishing in France : between autonomy, marginalisation and tutelage.

While we may not always see eye-to-eye with our closest neighbours we would do well to remember that in many areas they are fighting the same battles as us and very often share a common enemy.

French fisheries scientist Alain le Sann, whose UK equivalent would be Jerry Percy, has written extensively about conservation and management, particularly how it impacts artisanal fishermen:

I wrote this text at the request of ICSF for its magazine Samudra, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Rome meeting organised by Indian activists, after the FAO refused to accept artisanal fishermen as delegates. I attended the conference with 4 fishermen from Morbihan accompanied by CCFD, and on our return we published the texts and documents from the conference. After that, I was a member of ICSF for more than 20 years, and for several years I was part of the ICSF Animation Team. In 2006, ICSF launched the process that led to the adoption by the FAO of the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Artisanal Fisheries. 

These guidelines primarily concern Southern countries as well as small-scale fisheries of Northern countries . However, the definition of artisanal fishing is not a simple one, and the FAO has left it up to each country to define it. Unfortunately, the European Union has adopted a very restrictive definition that we feel is ill-suited to the reality of artisanal fishing in France. It is on the basis of my experience of supporting these artisanal fishermen that I am alerting now, together with the Collectif Pêche & Développement, to the dangers of fishermen being placed under the tutelage of NGOs. Artisanal fishermen, like all human beings, are not exempt from reproach, but they are the only ones who can meet the challenges of managing their commons, with the help of scientists and the support of civil society. The campaigns that accuse them of being the main destroyers of the oceans and aim at imposing coercive measures on them are a threat to the survival of their activity. A. L. S

"Numerous ethnographic studies show that the sea and its resources are not an open access resource, but a common good, collectively controlled by artisanal fishing communities through traditional institutions, and that privatisation or coercive measures by public administrations risk leading to the decline or even disappearance of these communities". Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem. Small-scale fisheries and the globalisation of the seas. 2017

The FAO Voluntary Guidelines

Among the principles set out in the guidelines, one of the first specifies : "Consultation and participation : ensure the active, free, effective, meaningful and informed participation of artisanal fishing communities, including indigenous peoples, taking into account the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples throughout the decision-making process concerning fishery resources and areas where artisanal fishing takes place, as well as adjacent land areas, and taking into account the imbalances in the balance of power existing between the different parties considered. This involves obtaining feedback and support from those who may be affected by decisions before they are taken, and taking their contributions into account."

The management of coastal fishing in France is largely based on these principles.

The role of fisheries committees in managing coastal zone resources.

There have always been unwritten historical agreements enabling fishing communities to share the space. Although these arrangements have survived and continue to exist, they have had to be translated into enforceable legislation in response to the increasing use of the territorial sea, the decline in certain coastal resources and the need to assert the fishermen’s determination to manage the area sustainably. In the Mediterranean, management by the prud’homies is still a reality in several ports despite the decline in the number of fishermen.

Today, professional maritime fishing is managed by a complex legal system : firstly, the Common Fisheries Policy - one of the European Union’s most integrated common policies - secondly, national regulations put in place by the Comité National des Pêches Maritimes et des Elevages Marins (National Committee for Maritime Fisheries and Fish Farming) or by the State ; and thirdly, regional rules laid down by the Comités Régionaux des Pêches Maritimes (CRPMEM - Regional Maritime Fisheries Committees), The CPMEMs are professional organisations now covered by the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernisation Act of 27 July 2010. This law gives them the status of legal entities under private law and gives them the prerogatives of public authority :

► compulsory membership

► levying of a compulsory professional contribution

► ability to establish rules for managing resources that are enforceable in law

► ability to set up appointed guards.

Thus fishermen have the exorbitant advantage of being able to manage their own activities in the territorial waters of their region. For example, the CRPMEM in Brittany, supported in this by its 4 Departmental Committees, has made extensive use of this ability for 30 years to set up a coherent system for managing fisheries and maritime space, as close as possible to the realities on the ground and the resources available. [1] This management system, implemented within the 12 miles of the territorial sea, through the introduction of licences differentiated by « métier", with a quota on the number of vessels and accompanied by technical measures concerning the length of vessels, fishing gear, the setting of fishing calendars and zones, limits on fishing effort, market size, etc., tends to allocate individual rights of access, as long as the deliberation creating them is approved by the authority in charge of the area, the Regional Prefect.

Licences issued by the Comité des Pêches are allocated to the owner/vessel and are neither negotiable nor transferable. The decrees impose a certain number of allocation priority criteria (in order) :

Track record,

Market trends,

Socio-economic balance

Any person (fisherman or organisation) with an interest in pursuing the matter can contest the texts by submitting an appeal for misuse of power to the administrative judge. The aim is to maintain social and economic equilibrium through collective management of resource sharing and a balanced resolution of cohabitation disputes, with a view to regional development. This system, based on proposals from the local level, has enabled a grassroots, bottom-up approach that meets the requirements of regional management. The list of initiatives implemented over the last 30 years is a long one : in fact, starting with the historic example of the management of scallops in the Bay of Saint-Brieuc, which served as a model, the introduction of a comprehensive coastal zone management system has generated almost 4,000 fishing authorisations a year, covering all "métiers "from boat fishing (including laminaria seaweed) to professional on-foot fishing and shore seaweed harvesters. Despite its complexity, this system remains flexible and evolving. In a statement on 14 May 2024, Brittany’s CRPMEM said : "We have made the very clear choice of prioritising access to fishing rights for new shipowners and owner-operators" in order to : "avoid a monopoly of fishing rights, promote a small-scale fishing model, and encourage those who want to set up in fishing...". [2]

Unsolved problems

The fisheries committees are facing a number of problems.

– While the Committees have complete freedom to manage coastal species not covered by quotas, species covered by quotas are managed by producers’ organisations, where the major fishing groups have more influence. – European rules are not always compatible with the rules put in place by the committees : in Normandy, for example, scallop fishermen cannot apply their regulations to English fishermen who fish beyond the 12-mile limit. This requires difficult

negotiations, especially in the context of Brexit.

– The 2010 reform abolished the local committees in favour of the departmental committees, which in some large departments has physically moved the committee away from the ports. As a result, participation in elections has fallen and divisions have become more acute.

A model under threat : NGOs, allies or opponents ?

Powerful new players - environmental NGOs in coalition, in France and at European level - are now involved in the fisheries debate and questioning the legitimacy of the fisheries committees, believing that they have the legitimacy to impose their vision of fisheries because they represent civil society. They are calling for bans on gear, areas and fishing seasons, without any consideration for the consequences or local realities. 450 boats have been banned for a month and will be for another 2 years : the aim is to protect dolphins ; an incomprehensible measure that undermines the efforts of fishermen to limit their catches of dolphins. 

The creation of reserves and MPAs without the participation of fishermen challenges the management responsibilities of fishermen in the name of preserving biodiversity. In Brittany, a reserve for the protection of birds was greatly extended by excluding fishermen from the management of the area, which was entrusted to an association for the protection of birds. 

As geographer Marie-Christine Cormier Salem (2015) notes : "The creation of protected areas, by changing the regimes of ownership and access to the sea and its resources, and by dispossessing artisanal fishermen of their fishing grounds and territories, are among the main mechanisms for enclosing maritime communal areas". Generally speaking, in Europe, fishermen are accused of being the main destroyers of the oceans, even though resources have improved overall. The main problems today are climate change and pollution from land-based sources, leading to green tides and blooms of toxic plankton. On these issues, environmental associations can be allies to fishermen and shellfish farmers. 

This is what is happening in the Parc National Marin D’Iroise off the coast of Brittany. For 20 years, with the support of fishermen, this park has enabled consultation between fishermen, scientists, elected representatives and associations, with fishermen retaining responsibility for managing their resources. It provides them with the means to manage and better protect their resources. There have been many positive results, without any ban on fishing except in limited areas. But the Coalition of NGOs does not want this model and is calling for an end to the Marine Park and the establishment of reserves.

The debate on towed gear, dredges and trawls

For the NGO coalition, the campaign on reserves and MPAs also serves as a lever for a radical rethink of towed gears, which is blamed for being non-selective, destroying the seabed and consuming fossil fuels. Some of these criticisms can be heard, and it is true that these gears have been the subject of fierce debate for centuries. However, if they have survived, it is because they have found their place and have come to be accepted by most fishermen where they are adapted. Their use can and must be improved, and some innovative fishermen are well aware of this, as are scientists. 

A look back at history is enlightening, because every time there were attempts to ban dredges and trawls, in the 18th and 19th centuries, a few years later they were once again authorised, with regulatory measures, because the ban had not led to an improvement in resources but had caused supply crises. [3] More recently, in-depth studies on the impact of scallop dredges on the seabed of the Gulf of Maine in the United States have shown that : "Our seabed monitoring has revealed a scallop population unchanged after about two decades, and has described a high degree of similarity between an obviously resilient fished benthic community and its unfished analogues in the central Gulf of Maine. We must therefore consider the possibility that commercial scallop fishing is not detrimental to the benthic community as a whole in this high-energy environment, and that the central Gulf of Maine is capable of maintaining a healthy macro-benthic community over decadal time scales ". [4] 

Indeed, the evolution of the seabed does not depend solely on the impact of fishing, but more broadly on the impact of the swell, currents, storms and temperatures. The use of towed gear, which is controlled, regul ated, limited and above all seasonal, is therefore not always as destructive as environmental NGOs claim.

Parliaments of the sea

The challenge concerns the implementation of measures to manage fisheries and conserve and enhance marine biodiversity, and therefore the effectiveness of co-management and the participation of people of the sea in the governance of their territory. Environmental associations have their place and their say in alerting, proposing measures and monitoring changes in biodiversity, but they should not put fishermen under their tutelage. This is what they are doing by obtaining a one-month fishing ban for 450 boats in the Bay of Biscay to protect dolphins, in disregard of the actions taken by researchers and fishermen to limit by-catches. 

The same is true when they demand the creation of reserves or a general ban on dredgers and trawlers. This is also the case when they impose their definition of small-scale fishing, excluding boats over 12 m and those using towed gear. In contrast, the Iroise Marine Park and the experience of managing a Natura 2000 area in southern Brittany, where fishermen maintain their rights and responsibilities within the context of consultation with associations, scientists and elected representatives, operate on a democratic basis and have demonstrated their effectiveness. 

The measures taken are debated, which takes time but then guarantees acceptance of the measures adopted and their adaptation to changes in the environment and activities. For Marie-Christine Cormier-Salem : "The status of spatial units, as defined by fishing activity, the way in which they are exploited, developed, perceived and shared, in other words the way in which they are managed and governed, is the central issue in fisheries. The areas structured by fishing practices, are liquid and shifting, with porous boundaries, are not res nullius, but res communes or communal, under the control of a community that identifies with them, claims them as its territory and ensures their defence and conservation". [5] 

It is on this basis that we are calling for the setting up of local and regional parliaments of the sea, to ensure the participation of society in the management of marine areas while respecting the rights of fishermen, who are not the only users of the sea. But if we put all the "stakeholders" on the same level, the rights of fishermen cannot be recognised, all the more so as their numbers are decreasing and society’s knowledge of the specific nature of their activity and their culture is fading away in favour of a vision of the sea reduced to the simple function of recreation and a reservoir of biodiversity. Yet fishermen are the men and women of the future ; before all others, they have always been confronted with nature, its limits and the vital need to adapt to it. The lessons they are now being taught by " people from the land " sometimes amount to what one geographer describes as "urban indecency ". [6]

Alain Le Sann. May 2024

1] Gérald Hussenot. In Pêcheurs bretons en quête d’avenir, éd Skol Vreizh, 2016. [2] Communiqué du CRPMEM Bretagne, 14 mai 2024

[3] Romain Grancher. Les savoirs de l’expérience, une enquête sur la fabrique de la police des pêches (France 1680-1860), ANNALES. HISTOIRE, SCIENCES SOCIALES. 2023/2. pp 231-269

[4] Samuel.C.Asci et al. Estimating similarity in henthic communities over deçades and in areas open and closed to fishing in the central Gulf of Maine, USA. Environmental Science, May 2018

[5] Marie-Christine Cormier. Paysans-pêcheurs du terroir et marins-pêcheurs du parcours. L’espace Géographique, 1995

[6] Guillaume Faburel. Indécence urbaine, pour un nouveau pacte avec le vivant. Éd Flammarion, 336 p, 2023