‘Shock’ as giant trawler sheds 100,000 dead fish off coast of France

France fisheries minister said she was investigating the incident

100,000 dead fish discovered off coast of France

A Dutch-owned trawler shed more than 100,000 dead fish into the Atlantic ocean off the coast of western France, forming a floating carpet of carcasses that was spotted by environmental campaigners.

France fisheries minister Annick Girardin described the images as “shocking” and said there would be an investigation into the circumstances that led to the incident involving the FV Margiris, the world’s second-biggest fishing vessel.

The EU Commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius, said he was seeking “exhaustive information and evidence about the case”.

The spill, which happened early on Thursday, was caused by a rupture in the trawler's net, said fishing industry group the Pelagic Freezer-Trawler Association (PFA), which represents the vessel's owner. In a statement, it called the incident a “very rare occurrence”.

The fish are routinely used to mass-produce fish fingers, fish oil and meal

“In line with EU law, this has been recorded in the vessel’s log book and reported to the authorities of the vessel’s flag state, Lithuania,” said the PFA, adding that the dead fish would be subtracted from the vessel’s quota.

An environmental group disputed that account, saying it was an illegal discharge of more than 100,000 unwanted fish.

The French arm of Sea Shepherd first published images of the spill, showing the ocean's surface covered by a 3,000 sq m (32,300 sq ft) blanket of blue whiting, a sub-species of cod, used to mass-produce fish fingers, fish oil and meal.

Sea Shepherd France said it did not believe the incident was accidental, but rather an attempt by the trawler to discharge a type of fish that it did not want to process – a practice known as “discharging bycatch” which is banned under EU fishing rules.

Trawlers such as the Margiris use drag nets more than a kilometre long and sift through the catch in onboard factories, despite heavy criticism from conservationists.

After protests by activists, the Margiris was forced to leave Australian waters in 2012. The vessel had a quota to haul 18,000 tonnes of fish from the sea but was banned by the then Labor environment minister Tony Burke following a public outcry.

“At the sight of the images shared by @SeaShepherdFran, I asked the National Fisheries Monitoring Center to shed light on this subject in order to identify the causes of these important discards of fish. Of course, these images are shocking,” Ms Girardin wrote in response to the incident.

Data from marinetraffic.com on Friday showed the vessel, which is owned by the Dutch company Parlevliet & van der Plas, was still engaged in fishing activities off the French coast.

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