Climate Hero: Claire Nouvian

Climate Hero: Claire Nouvian

Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental activist and hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature can coexist in harmony.

As the daughter of a recreational fisherman, Claire Nouvian remembers learning about coastal environments when she spent weekends by the sea growing up. Her passion for nature was elevated when she spent time in Argentina and felt she had an environmental awakening, inspiring her to work as a wildlife filmmaker and journalist. It was after filming a documentary at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California that she saw how natural habitats were shrinking and wildlife was being threatened by the practice of deep-sea bottom trawling.

Deep-sea bottom trawling is one of the most destructive forms of fishing. Fleets of boats tow a heavily weighted net that is dragged back and forth over the seafloor destroying everything in its path. Fragile environments are being compromised by metal ‘doors’ used as nets to capture a few species, while countless other fish, sharks, crustaceans, and invertebrates, known as ‘bycatch,’ are thrown back overboard and killed for no purpose. The practice has been likened to “clear-cutting a forest to catch a few birds.” When she found out that the French fleets were primarily owned by the supermarket chain, Intermarché, she knew she had her target.

In 2005, Nouvian founded the NGO BLOOM as a way to educate people on these fishing practices. Knowing, that education leads to awareness, and awareness causes action. She also used her NGO to build close relationships with other organizations in the fight against deep-sea trawling. In 2008, she saw the perfect opportunity to influence policy when the EU was making plans to reform its deep-sea fishing laws. She knew it was important for her evidence to be scientifically data-driven in order to sway politicians and influence the public.

Image credit: Courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

The first step was convincing Intermarché to change how they capture six million pounds of fish each year if they wanted to keep their claim that they practiced sustainable fishing. In 2012, Nouvian led an all-out assault on the supermarket chain, winning a legal battle by exposing their false ad campaigns that declared they posed no harm to the environment. The following year, she launched a consumer campaign that ranked French supermarkets according to their fishing practices and commitment to sustainable fishing. Intermarché came in last. 

In addition, French cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu was inspired by Nouvian’s TEDx talk, and they collaborated to publish a comic strip depicting the devastation caused by deep-sea fishing. It went viral and helped to garner 900,000 signatures to support a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling.

For a year, Nouvian used the media with newspaper ads, interviews, and giant public posters to push how dangerous deep-sea trawling is to the environment. By the end of 2013 with public pressure on Intermarché, the supermarket began negotiations with Nouvian. In January 2014, Intermarché announced that it would no longer fish below 2,600 feet and would phase out the sale of deep-sea species by 2025. Still not satisfied with France being the only EU member opposed to deep-sea trawling, Nouvian fought until 2016 when all EU member states adopted the ban.

As a tireless defender of marine life, Nouvian continues to work to abolish destructive fishing practices globally and is still collaborating with Intermarché to deepen its sustainability practices. 

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