EU regulations on margins of tolerance that are impossible to comply with could force the French tropical tuna fleet out of business by 2026, if rules are not adjusted to take into account the specifics of this fishery.
Orthongel, which represents French tuna operators CFTO, Sapmer and Via Ocean, is warning that the regulations are contradictory, placing skippers in an impossible position as they are required to both provide a species breakdown of the catch to within a 10% margin of error, and also to ensure that catches are frozen immediately as they operate in areas where temperatures are above 30°C.
According to an Othongel representative, this means that skippers have only a few minutes to make their best estimate of the composition of each shot of tuna before catches are transferred to freezing wells. The problem is compounded by these species being highly similar, making it even more challenging to estimate the proportions of each species.
Up to now estimates are updated as catches are landed, with the contents of a purse seiner’s wells weighed and sorted accurately by species on delivery to canneries – and these are the figures that are used in monitoring the fishery catches of species subject to quotas.
A system of points is used to penalise skippers and vessels if the margin of error between the estimate as the fish are caught and the landing count exceeds 10%, which can result in vessels being forced to remain at the quayside.
‘Orthongel’s members want to be able to comply with the regulations, but are currently unable to,’ an Orthongel spokesperson said.
‘They estimate that on average for one trip of of two, the margin of tolerance is exceeded, with overestimation as well as underestimation, leading to penalties. For the last year, as part of the revision of the control regulations, Orthongel has been lobbying for the margin to be applied not by species, but instead to the overall quantity of all species of tuna landed.’
To back up its case, Orthongel brought in commissioned economic analysis specialist company
Rinzen to provide an independent socio-economic assessment of the impacts of this regulation on the French tropical tuna fishery. Its findings are that by 2026, the French tropical tuna purse-seine fleet – and 1600 direct and indirect French jobs – will disappear if the control regulation is not adjusted.
‘The tropical tuna purse seine fishery is a major activity in French fishing, both for the jobs supported and for its contribution to the chain of custody,’ Orthongel’s representative states.
‘But this activity remains fragile, as it is exposed both to global competition – as non-EU vessels are subject to neither these regulations nor to the same environmental, health and social requirements – to the volatility of exchange rates and fuel costs, as well as to the random catch volumes inherent in any fishing activity on the high seas.’
According to Orthongel, Rinzen’s study makes it clear that the application of the control regulation threatens the economic viability of this fishery in the short term.
‘From 2026, penalties will result in unsustainable losses for the vessel operators concerned, which jeopardises more than 1600 French jobs. Orthongel is calling on all those responsible to change these regulations, and we reiterate our determination to co-operate in finding a lasting and reliable solution to this serious problem,’ Orthongel’s spokesperson commented.