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Environment. From this Monday, France is dependent on foreign countries for its fish consumption

From this Monday, May 2, France is dependent on foreign countries for its consumption of fish and seafood, according to a calculation made by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), an NGO which works to make farming of fish more respectful of the environment and more socially responsible.

In short, if the French only bought fish and shellfish farmed or caught in French waters, there would be nothing left on the supermarket shelves from this Monday.

“We compared fish consumption in France and imports. We found that we consumed 34% of fish produced (caught or farmed, Ed) locally in France and that we were 66% dependent on foreign countries, via imports”, explains Camille Civel, agricultural engineer and Director France and Belgium at the ASC. However, in France, “we always have this image of the little fisherman who goes offshore to look for his fish”, she notes.

This French dependence is however less significant than European dependence, which amounts to 71% within the EU according to the 2021 edition of the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products.

Fish consumption on the rise

For ten years, this date of May 2 has advanced by 11 days, notes the ASC, a sign that in a decade, the French have become more and more dependent on foreign countries.

“The demand for seafood products is mechanically linked to the growing population. There is also a very significant demand from consumers who want to stop eating meat or diversify their diet,” says Camille Civel.

In detail, between 2000 and 2018, the consumption of seafood products increased from 30 to 33.5 kilos per year and per inhabitant, according to FranceAgriMer, despite constantly rising prices. In 2021, this figure rises to 35 kilos of fish per year per French person according to the ASC. This is much more than the European average, which is 25 kilos / year – double that of fifty years ago, specifies for its part the WWF in its guide to seafood products.

Salmon, tuna, shrimp… Prized but massively imported species

If the date of dependence has been advancing for several years, it is also because “the species that we consume mainly, especially in aquaculture, are salmon and shrimp,” adds the engineer. However, for these animals, “France depends enormously on imports from abroad”

In detail, salmon, prawns, tuna and cod are the most imported seafood products by France, as shown by FranceAgriMer. These are indeed animals that are particularly popular with French consumers: “Each year, France imports 182,000 tonnes of salmon, 140,000 tonnes of shrimp and 114,000 tonnes of tuna respectively”, notes the ASC. They come mainly from Norway, the United Kingdom, Spain and Ecuador, according to figures from FranceAgriMer.

Fish stocks still overexploited

Importing more and more fish from abroad is fueled by growing demand, even as fisheries production has bottomed out. We cannot fish more than the ocean produces, which has also led France and the EU to set up quotas to limit overfishing.

“At the end of the 1990s, we caught an average of 40% of the fish present in European waters every year”, explains Didier Gascuel, professor of marine ecology and director of the fisheries, sea and coast center at the Agro Institute in Rennes. . “The average figure for recovery – all species combined – is 20%. Today, we are at 25%,” adds the researcher. “So the objective was not achieved, but we went back down, particularly in the Atlantic, and at the same time the abundance of the stocks rose by 35%”, he specifies, “But we are leaving anyway very low,” he notes.

Regarding France, in 2021, 56% of the volumes of fish caught came from sustainably exploited populations, compared to 15% 20 years ago, Ifremer pointed out last February. But as Didier Gascuel points out, certain species are still under threat, such as “cod caught in the North Sea or sole from the Bay of Biscay”. “In the Mediterranean, 90% of stocks are still overexploited. Hakes, langoustines and sardines are doing very badly…”

Globally, 34.2% of wild fish stocks are now overexploited, three times more than 50 years ago, estimates the ASC.

Aquaculture, sustainable fishing… What solutions?

The equation is therefore complicated for consumers who want to obtain their supplies in France without contributing to the overexploitation of certain species.

Referring to the guides offered by specialized NGOs, such as that of the WWF or the latest Ifremer report on the state of French stocks in 2021, is a first solution.

In the eyes of Camille Civel, who defends the role of her NGO, “even if we consume more fish than the European average, that does not mean that we are bad students but that we have even more responsibility for our ensure that when we consume it, it comes from sources that protect the environment”. Namely, in particular, aquaculture having obtained the ASC label, “which must respect the seabed, the health of the fish, the rights of employees and communities around the farm”, specifies Camille Civel.

Didier Gascuel believes that aquaculture is not the solution to the problem, quite the contrary. “It has never reduced fishing. Especially since caught fishmeal is used to feed the aquaculture fish that we consume in Europe,” he notes. “The first piece of advice I give to consumers is to eat less fish because we eat too much of it,” he says, supporting figures. “If we look at global stocks, each human would be entitled to 11 kilos per year of fish products. Today, in France, we are at 25 kilos. »

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