In 2010, the French fishing industry’s production totaled 470,000 tons of fish; France is the fourth country in the European Union in terms of catches. The three main species caught in 2009 were albacore, sardine and skipjack. In 2009, the total fishery sales in mainland France were about 1 billion euros.
French fishing areas (excluding overseas departments) are divided into four coastlines: the Mediterranean, the Bay of Biscay, the North Sea and the Celtic Seas.
Fishing in the Mediterranean region is mainly artisanal, and much more important in terms of employment than production. Fish resources are diversified: sardines, anchovies and hakes dominate. Deep-sea fisheries are based on these species, and also on deep water rose shrink, red tuna and swordfish. The red tuna is the only species under quotas in the Mediterranean.
The Bay of Biscay extends from the South of Brittany to the South of Spain. Artisanal fishing is located in the Bay of Biscay while deep-sea fisheries are mainly present in Brittany and Galicia ports. The most targeted species is sardine, followed by mackerel, Spanish mackerel, blue whiting, horse mackerel, hake and albacore.
The North Sea area connects to the Baltic Sea through the Skagerrak strait. The main fished species are herring, hake, saithe, plaice, sprat, mackerel and cod.
The Celtic Seas include the English Channel, the Ireland Sea, the Celtic Sea itself and the waters located in the West of United Kingdom and Ireland. Fishing activity remains important: the total amount of catches was about 1.8 million tons in 2007. The blue whiting represents about half of these. The other main species are mackerel, horse mackerel and herring.
French fleet and fishermen
French fisheries support 65,000 jobs, from the production, preparation and packaging to sales (wholesale and retail) and processing of the fish products.
There are 23,090 full-time on-board workers, located mainly in Northwest France. Among them, 88 % are full-time professional sea fishermen working on mainland vessels. Like in the rest of the European countries, the French fishing sector has been harmed by the recent rise in prices of gasoline and by the restructuration of the whole sector. Small scale fisheries employ most of the labor force (almost half of all on-board workers).
Shellfish farming employs about 9,500 people but the actual number of workers doubles due to seasonal activity. In oyster farming for instance, most of the harvest takes place shortly before Christmas, when 75 % of the yearly production is sold.
About one quarter of the professional fishers also have an aquafarming activity: the French aquafarming sector is second main producer in Europe and France is the first – and nearly only – oyster producing country in the European Union.
In total, the fishing fleet counts 7,300 vessels, of which 2,450 are registered in overseas territories.
In the North of France, fishing is not only a professional activity. About 2.5 million people enjoy recreational fishing, in Normandy and Bretagne, mostly during the summer months. Most recreational fishers don’t collect more than 2 kg fish per year and the majority of the catch is shellfish (mussels, clams, cockles).
Cooking and eating fish in France remains an important tradition. With a yearly consumption 35 kg fish per capita, the French rank third in the European Union for fish consumption.
A sustainable fishing policy in Europe
The fishing policy is mostly managed by the European Common Fisheries Policy. Until now, the French fishing policy was based mainly on the system of Total Allowable Catch (TAC). Each year in December, European Union members decide of a TAC for each country for the upcoming year, depending on the scientific assessment on the fishing resources in each country.
This year, a reform of the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is being discussed in the European Parliament and in the Council to promote a more sustainable fishery from 2013. The new CFP aims to provide EU citizens with a stable, secure and healthy food supply for the long term. It seeks to bring new prosperity to the fishing sector, end dependence on subsidies and create new opportunities for jobs and growth in coastal areas. At the same time, it should foster the industry’s accountability for good stewardship of the seas.