France is now debating the plans for the biggest land-based salmon farm in Europe. On the one hand, there are activists against this type of exploitation. On the other, the advocates of the salmon farm see it as an opportunity to boost EU sovereignty in the industry. Nowadays, the project is under deliberation between the European Commission and the European Parliament.
According to Euractive newspaper, the French project for Verdon-sur-Mer reached the European Parliament at the end of March. At that time, the Committee on Petitions (PETI) began to ask experts and NGO representatives to discuss the issue and thus started the controversy that is still going on.
The 200-million-euro project is led by the multinational Pure Salmon and is planned for 2024. Its plan would make it the largest aquaculture farm in Europe, capable of producing 10,000 tons per year.
The location in France is simple: it is one of the largest consumers in Europe. Around 200,000 tons of salmon are consumed per year on average. However, mostly of the salmon consumed in France comes from Norway or Scotland.
Esther Dufaur, the spokeswoman for the Eaux Secours Agissons collective, explained to Euractive that the project goes against EU law. "It is an absurd and disproportionate project that will involve existing and future violations by the French state of 18 European directives, including the habitats, birds, water, and nitrates directives," she said.
These claims are mainly because of the location of the project and the large volume of salmon that will be produced. Therefore, the project could affect the Gironde, the last wild estuary in Europe, a region surrounded by areas protected by national laws and/or EU directives due to its rich environmental qualities.
"If the farm remained solely on its industrial site, it would be fine. But the project will impact protected areas and pollute the estuary. This would undermine all the funding efforts to protect them," Dufaur told Euractive France.
However, according to Paul Miliotis, head of the project and the principal investor told in Euractive, this will not happen. The reason is that the method proposed by the project in Verdon-sur-Mer farm will raise the species on land, specifically in large ponds fed with groundwater. "This method avoids the negative impacts of marine farming."
Pure Salmon insists on the "control" of inputs and outputs, explaining that it will offer the fish impeccable water quality and return it without pollutants. This clarified for Euroactive: "We ensure that the fish have optimal water quality, we control the growth, and this has a lot of advantages."
Regarding the spillage in the water and the environmental impact, the company explained that there will be a minimum. Millotis explained that his company does not use hormones, antibiotics, and vaccines, and added: "We will only discharge 0.008% of the daily flow of the Gironde estuary per day."
Other projects are proposed in France. One of them, for instance, is by Local Océan, which wants to produce 9,000 tons of salmon on land in Boulogne-sur-Mer; another is by Smart Salmon which wants to produce 8,000 tons in Plouisy in the Côtes-d'Armor.
The Aquaculture Plan for the Future aims to increase France's power in the sector and proposes to produce 20,000 tons. These figures make farms necessary, as the country currently produces about 1,000 tons.
Moreover, the European Parliament recently regretted that aquaculture production in the bloc is only 10% of demand and urged the Commission, which considers farming as a means of "more circular resource management."
Dufaur argued to Eroactive that they "are not against aquaculture but against intensive fish farming." Because these models are part of the most polluting industries. Meanwhile, the advocates explain the lack of food and industrial autonomy because the EU imports more than 70% of the seafood it consumes.
Now, the Commission explains that it requires more data to evaluate the claims of European law violation, but, for the moment, not all the details are known to be able to do so.