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in the North, fishermen rise up against industrial fishing

Boulogne-sur-Mer (Pas-de-Calais), report

On the asphalt, the cadaverous outlines of fish and fishermen intertwine. Pieces of yellow and black tape complete the staging, worthy of a detective series. On the afternoon of May 9, the Boulogne-sur-Mer fish market was briefly painted in crime seine »in reference to the demersal seine, an industrial fishing technique accused of empty » the Channel. At the initiative of the Bloom and Pleine Mer associations, around twenty environmental activists and artisanal fishermen came together to demand a moratorium. At leastthey hope to obtain the adoption, by May 12, of an amendment tabled in the European Parliament by the ecologist Caroline Roose, which proposes to ban seine nets within 12 miles of the French coast.

The members of Bloom have transformed the Boulogne-sur-Mer fish market into a crime scene. © Hortense Chauvin/Reporterre

Appeared in the waters of northern France in the early 2010s, seine fishing consists of pulling fish out of the water after encircling them in drift nets. A bit like with a lasso », explains Alexandre Fournier, 25 years old, purse seiner repented for nearly a year. Vibrating cables deter fish from straying from the center. The technique is devilishly effective. The nets of the largest vessels can cover an area of ​​2.5 km2. On one day, five boats like that fold the equivalent of Paris in their nets. »

The demersal seine began to develop under the impetus of Dutch fleets that came to fish in French waters. Like a large number of Boulogne fishermen, Alexandre Fournier initially opposed it, before giving in, in the hope of countering the competition. One million euros have been invested to convert his trawler to seine nets. We didn’t want to let ourselves die, we wanted to stay competitive », he justifies. The young man bites his fingers today: If we continue these practices, in five years there will be no one left. There won’t be enough fish. »

Activists from Bloom and Alexandre Fournier (left) hold a sign denouncing the effects of the seine. © Hortense Chauvin/Reporterre

The only solution is to ban the technique for everyone »

With their backs to the guano-speckled ships moored on the wharf, the fishermen present agree. Red mullet, gurnard, plaice, sole, dab, brill, turbot… The list of species that they have seen disappear over the years continues to grow. The finger of the president of the regional fisheries committee, Olivier Leprêtre, mimics a dive towards the ground: We are like that. » The father of Alexandre Fournier, Philippe, wants as proof of this his landing data, which he scrolls on the screen of his laptop. In 2017, the 50-year-old caught 65 tonnes of Perlon gurnard. In 2018, 52. In 2019, 25. The plunge has not stopped: last year, he brought only 6 tons of this reddish fish to port.

The sailor accuses the excess » Dutch industrial seiners, which would have led French ships in their macabre race for technological hyperefficiency. Now they do non-stop, crew rotations so the boats always stay at sea », he says. In recent years, discussions had been initiated between French and Dutch fishermen to jointly limit the size of equipment, the number of boats and the number of days spent at sea. Without success. The Dutch would not have nothing wanted to hear »he laments. The only solution is to ban the technique for everyone. »

Laurent Merlin, the captain of the “ Lawrence Geoffrey “. © Hortense Chauvin/Reporterre

Beside him, Jérémy, a gillnetter, nervously smokes a cigarette. He started in the business at 16 years old. He now has 36. He and his crew used to be able to fish just an hour from the port: Afterwards, we went home, and it was good. » Today, we push at 4:45 am from Boulogne, we go to Pétaouchnok, up and down and across, and we have nothing left in our nets. » His voice is tinged with anguish as he loses himself in his data. Its turnover fell by 70 % This year. I am desperatehe blurts out. I have a house to pay off, three children to feed. I don’t know how to do anything else. What am I going to do, go to McDo to earn 800 euros a month ? »

Posters on the Boulogne-sur-Mer fish market. © Hortense Chauvin/Reporterre

The 30-year-old admits to being disappointed by the limited number of fishermen who made the trip. Everyone complains all the time, and when you have to be there, there is no one. » Laetitia Bisiaux, from the Bloom association, sees it as a manifestation of the immense disarray » fishermen. They’re fed up, they wonder “What’s the point ?”. » Jeremy sighs: The Dutch lobbies already know the end of the story. We have no one to defend us. » The practice also has some support in France. In The voice of the Norththe director of the Cooperative maritime étaploise, Étienne Dachicourt, judged a few days ago very dangerous » to ban the seine net.

It becomes unlivable »

Its ravages however claim victims as far away as England. As a sign of their common opposition to this technique, French and English artisanal fishermen met in the middle of the Channel in parallel with the demonstration on May 9. Gifts were exchanged between the crews of the jessie alicefrom Suffolk County and supported by the British branch of Greenpeace, and from Lawrence Geoffrey, registered in Boulogne-sur-Mer. A strong symbol, given the tensions around the quotas caused by Brexit. Like us, they no longer fish anything in their waters »testifies Laurent Merlin, the commander of the French ship, on his return to earth.

French and English fishermen united in the Channel to protest against industrial fishing, May 9, 2022. © Suzanne Plunkett/Greenpeace

Plastic crates dripping with seawater and dogfish, a small spotted fish from the shark family, pile up on the pontoon of his gillnet. We can’t fish anymorehe confides. And again, today was exceptional. The business is heading for disaster. » This fisherman’s son, grandson and great-grandson remembers being happy before ». Today is continuous stress. My son is 11 years old, he wants to go to sea. I forbid him. It becomes unlivable. » According to him, It is already too late ».

As a consequence of the depletion of the Channel by the seine technique, the “ Lawrence Geoffrey », an 11-metre gillnet, can only catch fruit bats. © Hortense Chauvin/Reporterre

Fishermen and associations are pessimistic about the possibility of obtaining a short-term moratorium. However, they do not intend to give up. Laetitia Bisiaux and Alexandre Fournier are expected in the coming days in Brussels. They will try to convince MEPs to vote in favor of banning the seine net near the French coast as part of the revision of the Common Fisheries Policy (PCP). Just a rulethinks the former seiner, that would already be a victory. »

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