CS

Case Study

September 13
6 mins

Small-scale fishers protest an offshore wind power plant in Saint Brieuc Bay

Philippe Le Billon
Local
France
Small-scale fishers protesting around the wind power plant drilling platform
Small-scale fishers protesting around the wind power plant drilling platform. Source: Préfet maritime de l’Atlantique, 2021.
The Bay of Saint Brieuc in Northwestern France is the site of a protracted conflict over an offshore wind power plant project, with local fishers and residents raising concerns about its impact on ecosystems and traditional fishing livelihoods. Despite protests and challenges, the project is moving forward, resulting in increased distrust among many opponents towards authorities and the wind energy company.
Small-scale fishers protesting around the wind power plant drilling platform.
Figure 1. Small-scale fishers protesting around the wind power plant drilling platform. Source: Préfet maritime de l’Atlantique, 2021 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji0in6nSDOc).

Renowned for its artisanal scallops fisheries and stunning coastal landscapes, the Bay of Saint Brieuc in Northwestern France has been the site of a major conflict over an offshore wind power plant project initiated in 2011. Most local fishers and many residents are eager to defend local ecosystems, traditional fishing livelihoods, and highly valued seascapes against the many impacts of the 465 Megawatts energy project. This is the first major industrial-scale project in the Bay of the Saint Brieuc, the site of previous conflicts relating to management rules for the scallop fishery and the proliferation of ‘green algae’ blooms resulting from agricultural runoffs from pig farms (Bourblanc 2019). The region has a strong ‘Breton’ regional identity, with small-scale fishing being considered one of its most culturally and economically important livelihoods. Professional fishers and seasonal beach resort residents are generally better off than the local population in the region. The conflict gained a high political profile during the 2021 presidential race campaign, with several presidential candidates visiting the site and supporting affected communities.

Concerns over the offshore wind power plant among local ‘ocean defenders’ have included fisheries closures during construction, additional restrictions during future operations, environmental harm related to noise, turbidity, wind blades, and high-voltage transmission lines, and the potential annual release of about 64 tons of aluminum-zinc anti-corrosion sacrificial anodes (AM & In Vivo 2015; Lara 2022). Around 61 ‘dérogations’ (impact exemptions) for protected species have been granted for the project (Bazille, 2021). Defenders have also criticized the project for being initially conceived without adequate environmental assessment and prior consultation with local communities, for the questionable reputation of the project contractor, and for generating a large private rent at the expense of the public (AGLC, 2022). As the project has progressed, local grievances have also included unrealized promises of employment and development of a wind turbine supply chain in the region, and the ‘grabbing’ of the maritime domain from local communities – while mostly economically benefiting a private foreign company (i.e, the Spanish multinational electric utility company Iberdrola) and its shareholders (Mauduit, 2020, 2021; Malet, 2022).

Small-scale fishers protesting around the wind power plant drilling platform. Source: Radio France - Johan Moison, 2021
Figure 2. Small-scale fishers protesting around the wind power plant drilling platform. Source: Radio France – Johan Moison, 2021.

The defenders mostly include small-scale fishers and shellfish farmers, as well as environmentally-minded coastal residents also concerned by a corporate ‘ocean grab’. They have united through two main organizations. The first one (Comité Départemental des Pêches Maritimes et des Elevages Marins des Côtes d’Armor) represents and defends the interests of about 800 maritime fishing professionals and mariculture farms in Côtes-d’Armor (CDPMEM22 2020). Small-scale whelk and scallop fishing in the bay yields the highest economic return for fishers and employs about 650 fishers aboard 240 shellfish harvesting boats. Fisherfolks perceive themselves as dependent on a well-managed and high-value fishery with a very long history in the region (Interview 1). They are mostly seeking to defend the marine ecosystems on which the fisheries and their livelihoods depend (CDPMEM22 2022).

The second one is a civil society organization (Association Gardez les Caps) founded in 2011 gathering about 700 local residents and fishers seeking the “preservation of the natural, marine and coastal environment of the bays of Saint-Brieuc and Saint-Malo, as well as the maintenance and harmonious development of its economic and cultural activities”(AGLC 2022). Coastal residents involve a mix of permanent and summer residents, many of whom have come there seasonally for generations. Both fishers and residents are seeking to defend the landscape and the integrity of a territory combining ecosystems, fishing, and tourism. Both groups also seek to defend their voice in decisions made over the project (AGLC 2022). About 4000 people actively support the two organizations of fishers and residents, with protests amassing gatherings of between a dozen to 800 people. Protests have taken place in local towns and at project sites, with public mobilization being the strongest in Erquy, a major fishing port and tourism destination, and the closest point to the wind power plant where the power cable exits the ocean to connect to the power grid.

Leaflet denouncing environmental impacts and effects on small-scale fishing.
Figure 3. Leaflet denouncing environmental impacts and effects on small-scale fishing. Source: Association Gardez les Caps.

Although France is expected to have high-quality environmental governance and a strong rule of law, there is a perception among defenders that laws and institutions are biased toward national and corporate priorities rather than local concerns (Personal community, community leader). Security forces have been deployed and engaged in intimidation tactics and occasionally aggressive ways toward protesters, with the use of restrictive injunctions, tear gas, physical harm, as well as arrests and brief detentions (Chopin 2021). Several skirmishes have occurred between people opposing the projects and security forces, resulting in minor injuries. Several of the most proactive fishermen have faced suspended prison sentences. Overall, defenders were able to shift the initially positive outlook on the project among many people by providing more information on the project’s impacts and mobilizing people through social media, mainstream media interviews, a wide range of communication tools (tagging, banners, stickers), and public meetings. They also raised the profile of the issue by engaging in some spectacular protests (e.g. burning tires, and surrounding the drilling platform with dozens of small fishing boats). Pre-existing networks, especially among fishermen, environmental, and neighborhood associations, facilitated communication and mobilization efforts (Oiry 2019). Defenders succeeded in getting some of the technical and economic aspects of the project improved, but they did not stop it and concerns about the project remain while distrust towards authorities, the energy company, and renewable energy projects has increased.

Citation

Le Billon, P. (2023). Small-scale fishers protest an offshore wind offshore power plant in Saint Brieuc Bay. N. Bennett & R. Lopez de la Lama (Eds.), The Ocean Defenders Project, http://oceandefendersproject.org  

References

AGLC (2022). Qui sommes-nous? Association Gardez les Caps. http://gardezlescaps.org/qui-sommes-nous/

AM & In Vivo (2015). Résumé non technique de l’étude d’impact pour l’implantation du parc éolien en mer de la Baie de Saint-Brieuc, 128 p.

Bazille, C. (2021). Parc éolien en Baie de Saint-Brieuc : les raisons de la colère. France3 Bretagne, 2 mai. https://france3-regions.francetvinfo.fr/bretagne/parc-eolien-en-baie-de-saint-brieuc-les-raisons-de-la-colere-2068825.html 

Bourblanc, M. (2019). Expert assessment as a framing exercise: The controversy over green macroalgal blooms’ proliferation in France. Science and Public Policy, 46(2), 264-274.

CDPMEM 22 (2020). Transition énergétique « OUI », destruction du milieu marin « NON ». 14 October. https://cdpmem22.fr/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2020-10-14_parc-eolien-de-Saint-Brieuc_CP.pdf

CDPMEM 22 (2022). Projet éolien en mer en baie de Saint-Brieuc. https://cdpmem22.fr/environnement/energies-marines-renouvelables-2/

Lara, H. (2022). Les éoliennes en mer polluent-elles à cause des anodes sacrificielles? Révolution Energétiqe, 31 March. https://www.revolution-energetique.com/les-eoliennes-en-mer-polluent-elles-a-cause-des-anodes-sacrificielles/

Malet, J.-B. (2022). Éoliennes en baie de Saint-Brieuc : un sabordage d’État et un pont d’or au dumping social. L’Humanité, 29 October. https://www.humanite.fr/social-eco/eoliennes/eoliennes-en-baie-de-saint-brieuc-un-sabordage-d-etat-et-un-pont-d-or-au-dumping-social-768744

Mauduit, L. (2020). Eoliennes dans la baie de Saint-Brieuc: et maintenant, c’est la mer qu’ils veulent privatiser! Médiapart, 19 October, https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/france/191020/eoliennes-dans-la-baie-de-saint-brieuc-et-maintenant-c-est-la-mer-qu-ils-veulent-privatiser

Mauduit, L. (2021). Éoliennes de la baie de Saint-Brieuc : l’avalanche de plaintes continue.

Oiry, A. (2019). Entre la rumeur et l’alerte environnementale : la parole des opposants face aux impacts environnementaux des énergies marines renouvelables sur la façade atlantique française. GéoCarrefour, 93/1. https://doi.org/10.4000/geocarrefour.13233

Categories

Degradation of Ecosystems, Degradation or reduced supply of Ecosystem Services , Local communities , Renewable Marine Energy , Awareness and communication campaigns, Corporate activism, Collective action, Legal and policy interventions, Public protests and demonstrations , Arrests and Imprisonment, Criminalization, Economic marginalization, Political marginalization, Repression and Silencing , Environmental injustices, Lack of Economic Benefits, Social and Cultural Impacts, Traditional and SSF livelihoods

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