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Forestry and Fishing

The land that became France was covered by thick forests before people lived there, but most of the original forest was cleared for agriculture or for domestic and industrial uses at the beginning of the 19th century. Today, economically important forests thrive in remote regions that are difficult to reach, notably the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Jura, and the Vosges mountains, and in many regions with reforestation programs. These programs were established to reclaim abandoned lands, provide watershed protection and wildlife habitats, and create a commercial alternative to marginal agriculture. The tendency to plant conifers such as pines and firs has created landscapes that differ greatly from the original ones. Production does not meet national demands for wood pulp, paper, lumber, and other forest products, and so France must import these items.

With its lengthy coastline on the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and English Channel, France has historically supported a flourishing fishing industry that provided an important food resource, as well as employment for thousands of people living in the coastal areas. Today, the fishing industry is a declining employer as large, more efficient ships squeeze out small independent fishermen, but it continues to provide food to the nation. Refrigeration, quick freezing, and rapid transportation combine to bring fresh seafood to all sections of the country. The leading fishing ports are in northern France at Boulogne, where the catch of the highly productive North Sea is landed; in Normandy and Brittany at Douarnenez, Lorient, Concarneau, and La Rochelle, from which fishermen depart to ply the Atlantic waters of the Grand and Georges banks off North America; and along the African coast. The catch consists mainly of cod, sardines, tuna, herring, halibut, and mackerel.

The Mediterranean, though the base of many traditional fishing economies, is a poor fishery compared with the Atlantic. Important Mediterranean fishing ports in France include Sete and Marseilles, where the variety of the catch compensates somewhat for the small volume. Shellfish, such as oysters, clams, and mussels, are profitably raised along the Atlantic coast from Brittany to Bordeaux.