French fishermen call off Channel blockade

16th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Fishermen lift the blockade of channel port but declare they will continue their protest for fishing quotas on land.

CALAIS – Cross-Channel ferries resumed Thursday as French fishermen called off a crippling three-day blockade of Channel ports following a multi-million-euro offer of state aid.

The blockade stranded thousands of travellers and caused massive tailbacks of trucks in southern England, sparking angry reactions from British ferry companies. The fishermen said they now would find other ways to protest over their catch quotas.

A spokesman for Dover port in southern England said ferries to Calais and Dunkirk in France were "running normally with space available" after clearing a passenger backlog overnight.

About 500 fishermen blocked the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne on Tuesday and Wednesday to demand the right to return to sea after their annual catch quotas had been filled.

"We are going to continue our movement to show we are mobilised, but we are going to change our type of action," said Bruno Dachicourt of the CFTC union after talks with the fishing minister ended with promises of financial help.

Dachicourt said the fishermen would focus on protests on land, including at a fish processing factory near Boulogne.

The French government has ruled out increasing their cod catch, but agreed to try to get extra quotas for sole, as well as offering EUR 4 million of aid for fishermen forced to stay at shore.

The European Commission said it would examine whether the proposed aid was allowed under EU rules.

Britain's P and O ferry company sharply criticised the French government over the blockade, accusing ministers of "rolling over" to the fishermen's demands.

Chris Laming, director of communications for P and O, told BBC radio he feared more strikes were "very likely," accusing France of failing to meet a legal obligation to keep the border open.

"It's a pattern that we've seen repeated before. They simply roll over every time and give in and so that's what generally happens," he said.

"There doesn't seem to be the political will in France to actually step in and resolve these disputes by means of some intervention or force."

The fleets Wednesday defied a court order -- obtained by P and O and LD Lines -- to lift their blockade or face heavy fines for each hour of lost business for the ports.

P and O has said it would seek compensation from the French authorities over the blockade, which it said cost the company GBP 1 million (EUR 1.1 million) a day.

Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne are separated from England by the 21-mile (34-kilometre) Straits of Dover, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Many local fishermen have exceeded their quotas for the first six months of 2009 -- despite the fact that French cod quotas have been boosted 30 percent since 2008.

But Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier said he was negotiating to obtain an increase in the French sole quota, by trading fishing rights with other EU member states.

In addition to direct aid, he said indebted fishing companies would be eligible for loans of up to EUR 50 million.

He said he would meet this month with EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg to discuss the longer-term outlook for the system.

The EU policy of quotas aims to stop stocks being wiped out through over-fishing, but protestors accuse Brussels of seeking to destroy small-scale operations by setting unrealistic limits on their catch.

AFP / Expatica

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