Saturday, 24 April 2021

It is not just UK skippers that see fly-seiners as a threat to inshore fishing

Industrial fishing: how the Netherlands empty French waters Industrial fishing

French artisanal fishermen are currently negotiating with foreign seafarers, who practice industrial overfishing using the Danish seine. Redoubtedly effective, this technique threatens fishery resources and the future of French fishermen.

After their boats have passed, it is no longer even worth going fishing." Philippe Calone, fisherman with nets in the Bay of Seine (Normandy), is one of those sickened sailors no longer tolerate the presence of large foreign vessels . In recent years, tensions between French artisanal fishermen and Dutch, English or German professionals - who in turn practice industrial fishing - have steadily increased. The French hold foreigners responsible for the economic crisis they are currently experiencing.

In November 2020, the auction in Dunkirk (North) went bankrupt and had to close its doors . The following month, sailors blocked the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais) to protest against the “ overexploitation ” of the Channel's resources by Dutch ships. “ These are large boats, and their catches are too large in relation to the available fish resource,” describes Philippe Calone "Only one of their passage scares the resource over an entire given sector for at least two weeks. They had started in the southern North Sea, they took it all - artisanal fishing has been in big trouble there ever since - and they are now coming to the Eastern Channel. "

"This gigantism means that there are not enough fish for everyone" These large vessels (over 25 meters long) often practice a particular fishing method: the “ Danish seine ” . Contrary to what its name suggests, it is mostly used by the Dutch. Appeared in France only ten years ago, it consists of putting long nets formed of two "wings" into the water for several hours. Lateral steel cables ensure the catching of the fish.

"This technique is very efficient," indicates Mathieu Vimard, deputy director of the Norman Fishermen's Organization ( OPN ). It is much more efficient than traditional trawling methods. For the same time spent at sea, it will not be the same fishing production at all. "The combination "big very modern ships" and "technical super-productive fishing" has inevitably created inequalities between fishermen. "This gigantism, in a small space like the English Channel, means that there are not enough fish for everyone" , regrets Mathieu Vimard.

In addition, some French fishermen have suspicions about the legality of the presence of Dutch vessels in these French areas. To fish in the east of the Channel, boats must have a European fishing authorisation, in place to regulate access to the resource. While the number of large authorised foreign boats should remain stable, French fishermen are nevertheless seeing them increase. Sign, according to them, that the regulations are not correctly applied.

"If we do not supervise the technique, we are going straight into the wall" To calm the spirits, the Dutch industry therefore undertook to put in place an agreement between the various stakeholders to “frame” the practice. For more than a year, the Dutch, English, Belgians and French have been negotiating on this issue, led by VisNed, a federation of Dutch producer organisations.

"The problem with this agreement is that we do not start with the same basic observation" laments Mathieu Vimard, deputy director of the OPN . The latter participates in the negotiations: it represents 240 Norman craft boats, none of which practice Danish seine. "We see that there is a decrease in resources and that if we do not supervise the technique, we are going straight into the wall. The Dutch are there to make an agreement that is a guarantee, a way of pretending that we can come to an understanding between us."

Dutch industrial fishing destroys the ecosystem and our profession". Some French fishermen also tick on an element: the dice seem loaded to them. The British are represented by Andries de Boer, director of the English producer organisation, Lowestoft Fish Producers Organisation. Yet Andries de Boer is… Dutch. On the Belgian side, it is a builder of "purse seiners" (a vessel designed specifically for purse seine fishing) which represents the profession. In short, everything seems to be in place so that Dutch interests take precedence over the rest.

Negotiations are still ongoing, and no agreement has been signed. However, on April 15, 2021, the organisation VisNed congratulated itself on its website that " the representatives of the fisheries of the four countries concerned have finally agreed on management measures " in the Channel. Better yet, the deal was supposed to start this Monday, April 19.

"We will die if this continues." Currently, the text under negotiation provides for a maximum number of seine fishing vessels (28 for France, 24 for the Netherlands, 17 for the United Kingdom and 6 for Belgium), a limit on fishing days ( 8 calendar days of fishing period per period of 14 days, which is all the same nearly 200 days) and technical measures (size of the mesh, cables, etc.). "The agreement provides that the organisations of producers of the vessels concerned must undertake to ensure that the rules thus defined are respected and to apply penalties in the event of infringements."

The number of vessels authorised is already too many. And these are people who agree with each other. Who will actually control the cable length of a boat?" Asks Matthew Vimard. The OPN therefore refuses to sign the text. Some French producer organisations are still in the process of thinking.“The purpose of this agreement is to ensure a sustainable future for all fishermen and their families,” says Pim Visser, the leader of VisNed. "We are therefore continuing discussions between the fishing organisations of the four countries and it has been agreed that when further measures are necessary, they will be taken. This agreement is in this sense "a living document."

The fisherman Philippe Calone, who does not take part in the negotiations but "follows them very very carefully" , even wants access to the Channel to be prohibited for boats over 25 meters. 

"French fishermen fish less and less every year," he sighs. "We have never overfished, we always try to manage ourselves. We're not perfect, but it's not comparable with Dutch industrial fishing. It destroys the ecosystem, it destroys our profession. We're going to die if this continues, we can't take it anymore."

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