Angry fishermen say cash offer is `bribe'

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William Waldegrave was accused last night of trying to bribe fishermen even before he unveiled a compensation package designed to placate Euro-rebels in the row over fishing rights.

Skippers in the South-west, furious over an agreement to allow Spanish fishermen into British waters, said they would reject any cash offers from Mr Waldegrave, the fisheries minister, describing them as pointless and unwelcome. Mr Waldegrave told the House of Commons that there would be an additional £28m available in compensation for decommissioning boats in addition to £25m already promised.

But the fishermen made it clear that they would continue to oppose the new Spanish rights regardless of the new money and last night's vote in the House. "The only offer that would satisfy us would be Mr Waldegrave's offer to go and renegotiate this disastrous deal with the Spanish," said David Scott, President of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. "Offering money like this to make us shut up and go away could, in the real world, be described as bribery."

Mr Scott and most of Britain's 6,500 skippers are angry at the deal struck by Mr Waldegrave that entitles up to 40 Spanish boats to fish in the "Irish Box", a 90,000 square-mile area around Ireland. Faced with Spanish threats to veto expansion of the EU,and the admission of Austria, Finland and Sweden, member states outvoted the UK on Spain's demands for access to the Box.

Mr Waldegrave described the deal last week as "not wholly satisfactory", but pointed out that the original proposals were for more than 200 boats to be given access to the area. Nevertheless, fishermen have described it as "a wholesale failure" because it is almost impossible to regulate the numbers of Spanish vessels in the area at any given time.

It was expected last night that decommissioning compensation would be increased by £15m to £40m over three years. The industry has been demanding more money for decommissioning vessels, but not if it meant that even more boats would be taken out of service.

Mike Townsend, chairman of the Cornish Fish Producers Organisation, said yesterday afternoon: "The last thing we need is a government offering us money to make the British fishing fleet even smaller. The anger down here is palpable. . . We can't be bought by any sweeteners, and we will continue to oppose this deal regardless of how the vote goes in the House."

The national federation's executive council meets on Saturday to plan a campaign of action. Mr Scott said it would not include any violent demonstrations although feelings were running high.