Sea Fisheries

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- by Alain Parrès
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- Alain Parrès, a member of the French Maritime Academy, is chairman of the National Committee for Sea Fishery and Fish Farming. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
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- Like most activities today, the fishing industry cannot be examined in isolation from the broader political, economic and social context. Fishing is also particularly dependent on the Community context and the international scene in general.
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- And perhaps more than for other activities, fishing would not be what it is today, and no doubt what it will be tomorrow, if it were not, of necessity, intrinsically linked to the great economic, social and political movements on our planet (five-sixths ocean!)
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Present situation: background and key figures

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- According to the latest available figures (1999), the French fishing industry ranks twenty-first or twenty-second in the world: France heads the list of countries whose production (fish and fish farming) is less than one million tonnes.
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- National production is close to 750,000 tonnes, which includes 588,100 tonnes of fish, crustaceans, shellfish, cephalopods and seaweed, and 156,000 tonnes of farmed shellfish and 5,000 tonnes of farmed fish. The value of this production is estimated at about EUR 1.37 billion, i.e. 0.14% of gross domestic product.
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- On 31 December 1999 the fishing fleet comprised 8,314 vessels totalling 182,911 gross registered tonnes, which represents about 10% of Community tonnage, about equal to the United Kingdom and behind Spain and Italy. The power of the fleet - now calculated in kilowatts (kW) rather than horse power, as previously - is close to 1.1 million kW, which puts France level with the United Kingdom, both countries being behind Spain and Italy.
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- France’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) (1) covers about 11 million square kilometres, including 260,000 around metropolitan France and almost 10.8 million around the overseas departments and territories and special-status communities (Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and Mayotte). The French vessels fish in French waters (25 to 30% of the catch), in those of other European Union countries (50 to 55% of the catch), and in the exclusive economic zones of third countries and international waters (about 25% of the catch).
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- Fishing enterprises in France are generally SMEs run as a family or even sole-trader business, and in the past they were often - so far as the non-industrial ones, i.e. those using traditional methods are concerned - without precise legal status. By affirming the commercial nature of fishing activities and creating the status of "non-industrial fishing company", the Outline Act [loi d’orientation - Act laying down the basic principles of government action] of 18 November 1997 on sea fisheries and fish farming gave these enterprises a clear legal framework.
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- A distinction is usually made between:
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—industrial fishery: fishing from vessels most often longer than 25 metres, belonging to companies and not owned by the master. This notion of industrial fishery should not be confused with fish-meal fishery, where the aim is to catch large quantities of certain fish species for processing as animal feed. There is no fish-meal industry in France;
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—non-industrial fishery: fishing from vessels generally under 25 metres in length, whose owner is the master on board.
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- Common to both industrial and non-industrial fishing is a chronic shortage of equity capital - fishing vessels cost a great deal, because of their size (they have to be big because of the distance to the fishing grounds) and technological sophistication (dictated by the operating requirements). Commercial fishing presents the double paradox of being a primary industry which is both highly capital- and technology-intensive.
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- In metropolitan France, the fishing industry provides employment for 20,600 sea-going fishermen, 16,500 of them full time. This sea-going employment is estimated to generate 50,000 to 60,000 spin-off jobs and some 40,000 indirect jobs - given the extent to which, in regional development terms, the fishing industry is what keeps the urban communities along the coast going. In the overseas departments and territories, about 10,000 people are employed in fishery, landing some 100,000 tonnes according to official figures.
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- All seagoing fishermen, whether industrial or non-industrial, are paid according to their share of the catch: the difference is that the former get a guaranteed minimum wage, while the latter’s pay depends on the results of each fishing expedition.
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- Training. Despite efforts to improve the situation, there is today a shortage of qualified seagoing fishermen. Yet specific training for the fishing industry exists and is in fact compulsory. The course involves a combination of theoretical training on land and practical training afloat. Sales of marine fishery products break down into direct sales to households, either to eat at home or in an outside catering establishment (direct consumption), and sales to downstream companies which buy fish for processing (indirect consumption).
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- Direct consumption, between 12 and 15 kg per capita in the 1970s, is now about 26 kg in whole equivalent weight, thus up over 90% in twenty years.
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- Consumption is essentially characterized by three aspects:
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— Fashion - for the past few years, eating fish has been fashionable owing to the importance attached to diet and physical fitness;
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— Great elasticity of demand, combined with a (price) threshold effect;
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— The constantly growing role of hypermarkets and supermarkets, which account for 55% to 60% of fish and seafood purchases. Initially concentrating on frozen fish, the supermarkets are now placing greater emphasis on fresh fish, delicatessen seafood and ready-to-cook products. Indirect consumption by processing concerns. The canning industry gets a high proportion of its supplies from French fisheries, whereas the frozen-fish industry looks more to imports, there being an insufficient domestic supply of the products it needs. The canning and frozen-goods industries both make basic products which then (increasingly) undergo further processing in factories outside metropolitan France, while domestic production goes into higher-value-added goods (tinned/canned food or cooked dishes).
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- A commercial deficit.
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- The increase in direct consumption and demand for supplies are tending to exacerbate the deficit in the balance of trade. With a deficit of EUR 2.3 billion, fishery products have the unenviable privilege of being the biggest negative entry in the external trade balance. Four species - salmon, shrimp, tuna and cod - account for practically 50% of the fish deficit in the balance of trade.
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Administrative and trade organization

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- All fishery activities, no matter how various, are represented in an original fishery trades organization which was born of the economic crisis in the 1930s and given formal structure by an Order of 14 August 1945.
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Trade bodies

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- Much changed by the Act of 2 May 1991, the fishery trades organization comprises a National Committee for Sea Fishery and Fish Farming, 13 regional committees and 39 local committees covering the whole French coast. Membership is compulsory. Producers (ship owners and crews), merchants (wholesale and retail fishmongers), processors (canning, freezing, salting, smoking) are all represented through trade associations (trade unions, fishery cooperatives and producers’ organizations). Funding is mainly derived from special levies paid by producers and processing companies. But the organization also receives membership dues and payments for services rendered. The accounts of these bodies are subject to government audit.
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- Producers’ organizations in the fishery and aquaculture sector are set up to ensure rational management and improve the terms of sale for their products, in conformity with Community regulations. They have an important role to play in managing resources and regulating the market. There are 25 producers’ organizations in the sea fishery sector, divided between two national federations.
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Government departments and agencies

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- Under the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Directorate for Sea Fishery and Aquaculture (DPMA - Direction des pêches maritimes et de l’aquaculture) is responsible for providing the industry with economic information and guidance, the regulation and monitoring of sea fishery and aquaculture (marine and fresh-water) and processing of fishery products. Responsible for setting general domestic policy guidelines for sea fishery and aquaculture, and representing France both within the framework of the EU Common Fisheries Policy and internationally, the DPMA enforces the regulations and implements measures to support the French fishery sector. It supervises the sea fishery trades organization, the National Intertrade Board for Sea Fish Farming (OFIMER - Office national interprofessionel des produits de la mer et de l’aquaculture), and the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER - Institut français de recherche pour l’exploitation de la mer).
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- Operating in the sea and fish farming products sector, OFIMER’s mission is to strengthen the sector’s economic efficiency, improve knowledge of the market and its operation, and apply Community measures. Its role is to encourage and support steps taken by the industry to enhance the value of French production. In addition to production and first sales, OFIMER’s brief embraces processing, transport and distribution, thus covering all the operators in the fishery and aquaculture products sector.
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- A public institution with industrial and commercial responsibilities, IFREMER is under the joint supervision of the Ministries of Research, Fisheries, Transport and the Environment. It has a key role in the development and implementation of sea fishery and aquaculture policy, which accounts for 40% of its work. As an institute involved in research with industrial and commercial applications, it contributes to the rational management of fishery resources and the environment. It also has public service responsibilities, such as providing technical support to government departments, issuing expert opinions, and participating in environmental quality monitoring. The maritime affairs services are organized along regional and departmental lines [French local government tiers: region, department, and commune]. They are responsible for the monitoring, regulation and economic development of fishery and fish farming activities, and for the administration and management of fishing and other commercial vessels, craft used for boating and sailing, and seamen employed aboard these vessels. They also have a role in surveillance and rescue at sea.
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Community framework

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- Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome, signed in 1957, envisaged the application of the common market to fisheries, in the same way as to agriculture. That meant that fisheries were supposed to be governed by a "common policy", and this was introduced in 1970, the date of the first decisions by the Council of Ministers concerning access to fishing areas, markets and structural support. But it was not until 1983, after many vicissitudes, that the European Community finally managed to establish a "Blue Europe" in fisheries. This Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has various aspects: The conservation and management of resources. This is given practical expression in catch quotas, authorized volumes, the so-called "fishing effort", licences, special fishing permits, and numerous technical measures (mesh sizes, catch sizes, etc.)
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- 1) Structural policy
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- Its aim remains the eventual matching of available resources to existing fleets. To this end, the French fishing fleet has been much reduced since 1988, in the course of various Multiannual Guidance Programmes (MAGP), successive plans for vessels’ exit from the fleet, and strict quotas on operating permits. In addition to the traditional Community structural funds (ERDF, EAGGF, ESF), there is now the Financial Instrument of Fisheries Guidance (FIFG). Linked with the other components, the structural component makes special provision for the overseas departments within ultraperipheral regions.
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- 2) Common Organisation of Markets (COM)
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- Created in 1970, the fisheries COM has evolved over the years. The objectives of this COM, reformed in late 1999, are today to bring about the rational organization of the market and enhancement of the value of Community products, contribute to a sustainable management of resources, and strengthen the competitiveness of the Community processing sector. Its principal tools are consumer information, the structuring of the sector through producers’ organizations and recognized trades associations, and the market intervention regime.
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- 3) External policy
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- This is manifested in two different areas: fisheries agreements, and trade policy. Fisheries agreements with third countries: these are essential for direct and indirect employment in the EU and account for about 25% of total Community production. The European Union has exclusive competence to negotiate agreements which establish links between France and more than 25 States.
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- Trade policy: a major feature of the fisheries trade policy is the GATT consolidation of customs duties on fishery products. Community preference (never formally stipulated since the Stresa conference) is frustrated by the entry of some 70% of sea products partly or wholly exempt from the common customs tariff (CCT).
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- Even if imports are necessary to supply the Community market for fishery products, given a shortfall of about 50%, Community fisheries have sometimes been hard hit by the repercussions of the general trade policies associated with the European Economic Area (EEA), World Trade Organization (WTO) and general liberalization of world trade.
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Changing international environment

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- A large proportion of fishery activities can take place only in an international framework: fishing by certain States in the fishing zones of other States, and sometimes mutual fishery; and fishing in international waters beyond all national limits. Between 1975 and 1995, there were far-reaching changes in the geopolitical, biological, economic and social conditions of the fishing industry. The main stages were marked by a series of conferences and international agreements.
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- The fourth Conference on the Law of the Sea (1974-1982) proclaimed the seas and oceans "the common heritage of mankind", and created the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone, which constituted an important change in the concept of freedom of fishing [i.e. that ownership of the high seas was unnecessary and that its resources should remain free for the use of all]. A Convention on the Law of the Sea was adopted at Montego Bay (1982).
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- The same period saw persistent and often successful pressure from ecological groups at all international conferences where the problems of fisheries were discussed. This was aimed at influencing decisions and regulations (environmental levies, eco-labelling). With the support of France, new concepts emerged calling for practices more concerned to preserve natural resources. The Cancun Conference (June 1992) adopted the principle of "responsible fisheries", which covers environmentally-friendly use of fishery resources and fishery and aquaculture methods without harmful effects on ecosystems, the resources and their quality.
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- The Rio de Janeiro Conference (July 1992) or "Earth Summit" highlighted the concept of "sustainable development (and hence use)" of natural resources, including fishery resources.
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- The Rome consensus (FAO) and Kyoto Conference added to the principles of responsible fisheries and sustainable development the concept of the fishing industry’s contribution to "world food security"
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- The "Flag Agreement" and Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO) define the organization and rules of responsible and sustainable fisheries, as part of efforts to improve the behaviour of States and players in the fisheries sector.
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- The UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Species (1993-1995) adopted new measures aimed at improving the conservation and management of the sea’s resources (e.g. strengthening of controls).
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- There is also a new factor: the emergence of groupings of non-industrial fishermen, particularly in the developing countries of the South. They are starting to form networks and to challenge the arrival of industrial fleets in their waters, as well as the development of industrial aquaculture, especially for shrimps.
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- Respect for these principles of sustainable and responsible fisheries, today shared by the great majority of States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), is the duty of coastal States within the 200 mile zone under national jurisdiction. But when it comes to the high seas beyond the 200 nautical mile limit, it is up to the flag State to see that they are applied to the vessels of its nationality. However, to improve the effectiveness of the machinery for monitoring and inspecting illegal or undeclared fishing, there is an increasingly tight-knit network of regional fishery organizations covering the various oceans.
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- It is in this new international environment, built up over the past twenty years, that the fishing industry must operate, now and in the future.
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- (1) The EEZ (exclusive economic zone) is the maritime area off the coast extending up to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) in which the Coastal State has sovereign rights over the living resources of the sea.
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- Source : Images de la France (SIG)
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- For further information
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- French Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries
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Dernière modification : 04/03/2010

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