Wednesday 21 March 2018

French protest over fishing brings port of Calais to standstill

Burning tyres block access to the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Photo: Getty Images
Burning tyres block access to the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer. Photo: Getty Images
Fishing boats block access to the harbour. Photo: Getty Images

Pierre Savary

French fishermen blockaded Calais yesterday, halting shipping movements at France's busiest passenger port and a major entry point to Europe for Irish and British goods, in protest at losses inflicted by the practice of electric pulse fishing.

A small flotilla of fishing vessels set out at dawn from Boulogne and others were expected to join from Dunkirk, said fisherman Stephane Pinto.

The English port of Dover was also hit by the action, with P&O and DFDS Seaways suspending some scheduled services. DFDS later rerouted some services through Dunkirk, while P&O advised some customers to use the Channel Tunnel.

Fishermen in Boulogne set pallets and tyres alight on an access road while two French boats blockaded an area of the port where Dutch trawlers unload their catches.

A spokeswoman for the port said the fishermen's protest ended at about 4pm, following negotiations, though she said it would take several hours to clear a backlog of traffic.

"It is utterly unacceptable a small number of individuals have been allowed to bring to a standstill a port on which thousands of businesses and tourists rely every day," Janette Bell, the chief executive of P&O Ferries, said in a statement.

Some two million lorries, tens of thousands of coaches and 10 million passengers pass through Calais every year, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, the port's general manager, told Reuters earlier this month as he detailed risks to trade flows from Brexit.

Mr Pinto said the protest was over losses caused by some countries' practice of electric pulse fishing.

French fishermen say pulse fishing in demarcated zones is depleting fish numbers.

The technique uses electrodes to emit electric waves, stunning fish which then float upwards and are scooped up by giant nets.

"We're at our wits' end. We feel abandoned," said Mr Pinto, who together with his colleagues already frets that Britain's exit from the European Union will end their access to British waters.

The European Parliament voted on January 16 in favour of banning commercial pulse fishing. Opponents say it is tantamount to putting a taser gun in the water.

Supporters, including The Netherlands which has issued permits to about 80 of its trawlers, say the technique reduces unwanted bycatch and avoids ploughing nets along the seabed.

The European Parliament vote was advisory but means the issue will now be debated with the European Commission and members states and could lead to legislation.

Irish Independent

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