Fishermen firm on keeping body and sole alive

the question of net size and catches that has ignited the dispute
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The fishing dispute blocking channel ports yesterday concerns 220 small French boats which make a living from catching sole and other fish in the channel and western approaches.

The fishermen have, somewhat belatedly, taken fright at a European Union directive, agreed by France and other European governments, which would increase the minimum mesh size of their nets.

This is part of an EU programme of conservation, applying to all EU fleets, intended to reduce the catching of young fish and lessen the pressure on disappearing stocks.

The fishermen have three complaints about the new nets. They protest that they will cost a lot to buy - about pounds 20,000 per boat. They fear they will reduce the weight of their catches. Most of all, they complain that the nets will spare precisely the young, tender, medium-sized sole which are prized by French cooks and command the highest prices at market.

Attempts were being made last night to arrange a meeting between the fishermen's leaders and the French agriculture and fisheries minister, Philippe Vasseur. The minister said this was a "highly technical" matter but he was ready to meet the fishermen at any time to try to find a solution.

While this was taking place, a spokeswoman for P&O Ferries in England said the ferry companies had been granted permission by the French courts to serve injunctions on 15 fishermen blockading Calais.

"The injunctions should be served within the next few hours by French civil servants on those named individuals. If they have not moved within one hour of receiving the injunctions, they will be liable for fines of 10,000 francs (pounds 1,100) per person per hour that they remain blocking the port.

"We are very hopeful this will bring an end to the blockade. If the fishermen do not move after the injunctions have been served, they can remain in place but the fines will mount up."