Shocking Footage of 100,000 Discarded Fish

Sunday, 20 Feb, 2022

Earlier this month our media crew on the M/Y Age of Union captured shocking footage of 100,000 dead fish carpeting France's Bay of Biscay, sparking international outrage. 

The Age of Union at the scene of the carnage. Photo Thomas Le Coz/Sea Shepherd Global.

France’s maritime minister called for the national fishing surveillance authority to launch an investigation, and the European commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, also said he was seeking “exhaustive information and evidence about the case.” After the Dutch-owned super trawler F/V Margiris was immediately identified as the culprit, its spokesperson promised the "spill" was a “very rare occurrence.”

This video -- with English voiceover after the subtitled introduction -- shows the destruction these factory trawlers are really capable of, and why Sea Shepherd is calling for them to be banned:

Following the broadcast of these images, the Pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association (PFA), the owner of the vessel (Atlantic High Sea Fishing Company - AHSFC), issued a press release qualifying it as a fishing "incident".

Sea Shepherd France President, Lamya Essemlali. Photo Brais Palmas/Sea Shepherd Global

Sea Shepherd France President Lamya Essemlali responds:

The arguments used to justify the accidental nature of the discard are perplexing.

Indeed, AHSFC explains that the blue whiting came from a trawling net that split under the weight of too many fish. However, if they are able to measure the quantity of fish in the net, why didn't they stop fishing as soon as the net was reaching its capacity limit?

AHSFC also says that it reported the incident to the Lithuanian authorities because the vessel is registered in that country. According to the information available to us, the Margiris did not contact the Centre National de Surveillance des Pêches (CNSP), which has authority since the Margiris was in the French EEZ. On the contrary, it was the CNSP that contacted Margiris.

The AHSFC also defends itself from the accusation of carrying out "high grading", an illegal but common practice which consists of discarding fish of low market value in order to keep space in their holds for species of greater value.

If indeed, according to the inspection of the French authorities, the Margiris does not have the technical possibility to discard fish once it is on board, nothing prevents it from opening the net while it is in the water.  

The Viking small boat crew observing the Margiris supertrawler the day before the dead fish are discovered. Photo Rodolphe Villevieille/Sea Shepherd Global

In 2019 Sea Shepherd had observed and filmed thousands of dead fish abandoned in the wake of the Annie Hillina, another vessel of the Parlevliet & Van der Plas group, again in the Bay of Biscay, in the French EEZ.

AHSFC and the PFA boast in their communication that they provide 5.5 million low-cost meals per day for Africa. However, these same Africans would probably not need the "cheap" fish caught in Europe if their territorial waters were not plundered by these same vessels.

AHSFC announces that the quantity lost has been deducted from their quota but they have not made this quantity public. Perhaps our estimate of 100,000 fish would be much lower than the actual number of fish lost as suggested by some fishermen.

Finally, the shipowner claims to have suffered operating losses due to the time lost in repairing the damaged net.

First of all, vessels like the Margiris have two nets on board, as shown in our pictures. Therefore, they can continue fishing if one of them is damaged. Second, from the vessel's positions, we can see that the Margiris resumed fishing only 4 hours after reporting the incident and after repositioning itself about 15 miles from the incident.

Sea Shepherd has filed a complaint against the Margiris with the Dutch Maritime Police and is working with Dutch authorities who are interested in the case to ensure that the truth about the incident is known. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, this sad episode highlights the urgent need for better fisheries surveillance.

Learn more about Operation Ocean Killers

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