A class action brought by Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) and French small-scale fishermen over the legality of the mechanism behind the French bluefin tuna quota allocation has languished in the legal system for more than four years – but a hearing finally takes place this month.
‘It was on the 12 April 2017, more than four years ago!’ said LIFE executive secretary Brian O’Riordan.
‘That’s when we went to court to challenge the legality of the allocation mechanism for the small-scale bluefin tuna quota in France. It has been four long years of waiting for the outcome of a class action brought by French small-scale fishers and LIFE.’
He commented that they had almost given up on this appeal, which appeared to have vanished without a trace – until now.
‘Finally, the hearing is set for 17th June at 10am in the Montpellier Administrative Court. However, whatever the reasons for this long and unusual delay, whatever difficulties the legal institutions may face, and despite the health crisis, our questions are still valid today, as are the rulings that will come out of the procedure,’ he said.
LIFE had originally had gone to court over the Ministerial Decree for the 2017 bluefin tuna season, and while this annual decree is no longer in force in 2021, the situation has not changed as the principles used to allocate the small-scale sector’s quota are the same.
‘Effective international management of bluefin tuna has enabled the stock to recover and to establish the good condition of the fishery that we see today. This positive development has led to an increase in the French quota from 3226 tonnes in 2017 to 6026 tonnes in 2021, but its internal distribution is still very unbalanced and unclear among small-scale professionals, both in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic,’ he explained.
‘The limited number of licenses available does not allow for sufficient access rights to be granted to polyvalent small-scale low impact fishermen either.’
Brian O’Riordan commented that the relevance of this appeal has not diminished over time and it is as important today as it was four years ago.
‘This is not only for those who initiated it but also for a large number of small-scale fishers, not only in France, but also in other European countries where a similar situation exists. This appeal is not calling for a revolution or for a professional confrontation between the ‘small’ and the ‘large’ fleet segments,’ he said.
‘It simply aims to set a legal precedent for future fishing seasons, and to open up a discussion on new, fairer and more rational basis for distribution between fleet segments.’