France’s Protest Over UK Bottom-Trawling Ban is Being Labelled “Hypocrisy”

According to French diplomats, the UK bottom trawling ban is a breach of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). Such a breach could lead to punitive measures against the UK if an arbitration tribunal rules in France’s favour. France’s claims have been disputed by experts who say the UK is abiding by the TCA. Photo credit: Piriou

France has raised objections to a new UK regulation banning bottom trawling in certain territorial waters, sparking a controversy that has drawn accusations of hypocrisy from environmentalists. The UK implemented this prohibition last month, targeting 13 marine protected areas which cover a total of 4,000 square kilometers. This measure, which affects both British and EU fishing vessels, aims to shield vulnerable marine habitats from the detrimental impacts of bottom trawling—a practice involving heavy nets dragged across the seabed.

French officials argue that this ban violates the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). However, Charles Clover, director of the UK-based Blue Marine Foundation, contends that the TCA allows for such fishing restrictions if they are uniformly applied.

Critics of the French government, including Claire Nouvian, head of the Paris-based environmental group Bloom, accuse the French government of acting contrary to its stated commitments to ocean conservation. The dispute has become a point of political contention in France, with far-right parties such as the Rassemblement National, led by Marine Le Pen, supporting trawler operators who rely heavily on the now-restricted zones for their catch. Nouvian even hinted that her organization may consider pursuing litigation against the French government if it continues to go against its stated promises on ocean conservation.

A UK government spokesperson said the ban “represents a significant step in protecting our vulnerable and ecologically valuable rock and reef habitats, where the scientific evidence has demonstrated the negative impact of bottom-towed fishing gear.” Photo credit: AlenaLitvin, Shutterstock.

The issue has also resurfaced broader concerns about France’s environmental policies. Despite hosting significant international environmental events and advocating for global ocean sustainability, France has been criticized for its stance on bottom trawling within the EU. In 2023, an editorial in Nature magazine identified France as one of the key countries undermining ocean sustainability.

This stance contrasts with its international commitments, such as the High Ambition Coalition for Nature & People, which France co-launched with the aim of protecting 30% of the world’s land and sea areas by 2030.

A UK government spokesperson defended the ban, highlighting the extensive consultations that preceded the decision and the scientific basis for the restrictions aimed at preserving ecologically valuable areas. Meanwhile, officials from the European Commission are engaged in discussions with both French and UK representatives to address the issue further.

The conflict over bottom trawling is part of a larger series of disputes involving the UK’s marine conservation actions, including a recent confrontation with Denmark and Sweden over the closure of parts of the Dogger Bank to protect seabirds.

To learn more about the UK’s ban and France’s response, check out this article.