Rebuilding French fishing

The limits of the state
The state, ecology and modernisation (1939-1958)
By Fabien Locher

Currently, the overexploitation of the oceans due to industrial fishing is a major imbalance in humankind’s relationship with the biosphere. To understand its historical origins, it is essential to analyse the political, economic and technical processes that gave rise to, or encouraged, the uncontrolled expansion of fishing fleets and techniques in the 20th century. This paper analyses the key role of the rebuilding of the French fishing fleet during and after the Second World War. We show that this rebuilding was a “modernisation shock” largely orchestrated and financed by the state, taking the form of an energy transition from coal to liquid fuels. We examine the important role played by the Vichy regime, and thus contribute to an analysis of the regime’s modernising side, in the maritime field. After the war, reconstruction led to a long-term expansion of catching power, initiating a trend of overexploitation of the marine environment, the effects of which are now being measured. This paper, part of a long-term research project on the environmental history of the sea in France in the 20th century, thus contributes to a better understanding of the role played by the state – particularly with regard to subsidies and other public aid for fishing – in the historical construction of our relationship with marine environments and their fauna.

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