Backlash in Milford-sur-Mer: British and French fishermen are in dispute again. Nick Cohen in Milford Haven and Leonard Doyle in Concarneau hear the reasons

The Welsh port of Milford Haven, which British trawlermen say has become 'a French fishing colony', was blockaded by fishing boats yesterday.

Six trawlers from Fleetwood, Lowestoft and Northern Ireland, and the David John, one of the few local boats still operating from the port, ignored a ban on direct action issued by national fishermen's leaders on Friday and closed the entrance to the harbour. They forced the Milford-based French trawler Jane de Lorraine, carrying 40 tonnes of fish, to anchor in the Cleddau estuary and trapped three other French vessels inside the port.

The port authority issued writs against three vessels blocking the port from inside the harbour. At 12.30pm it was decided to lift the blockade but it took eight hours for the boats in front of the dock gates on the seaward side to clear a passage for the French trawlers.

Scores of police, with a helicopter overhead, were at the dockside to prevent a repetition of the trouble on Wednesday when local shellfishermen broke into the harbour market and overturned boxes of French fish.

Anger is focused on Milford because it is, to all intents and purposes, a French port. At least 90 per cent of the cod landed there is caught by French crews from French-owned trawlers in the waters from Cornwall to the Western Isles.

Twelve French vessels are based at Milford Haven - two over 200ft and all over 60ft.

The French gain six extra fishing days a fortnight in what were once British waters by staying in the Welsh port and avoiding having to return to Brittany every time they fill their holds. The remains of what was once the biggest British fleet in Wales consists, by contrast, of two 60- footers and a few 40-footers run by part- time crews.

Almost all the fish landed is packed by French companies and sent for sale in France. Phil Brooks, chairman of the South Wales Shell Fishermen's Association, said it was almost impossible to buy wet fish in Pembrokeshire, even though the seas off South Wales are full of cod this spring. Fish-and-chip shops in Swansea, the nearest city, have to order their cod from London.

Resentment at the French presence first boiled over on Wednesday morning after a lorry carrying Welsh lobster and crabs was attacked in France. This led fish merchants to cancel their runs of Welsh shellfish to the Continent.

'Our exports to France and Spain stopped and our boats were laid up because of a yob element in France, while the French were over here fishing our waters because our Government had given away our fish quotas in Brussels,' Mr Brooks said.

David Dean, skipper of the Old Tom, one of the few British trawlers left, agreed. 'Every fish the French catch off Britain is one the British can't have,' he said. 'We keep hearing John Major say he will never accept a federal Europe, but the Government has already sold the British fisherman down the river.'

Mr Brooks, a former agricultural scientist, says he hates violence. He told the police and the harbour authorities on Wednesday that he was going to organise a 'peaceful riot'. He told French sailors to stay aboard their ships out of harm's way. After French managers declined an invitation to talk, he went into the fish market where British workers were grading the French catch.

'We're coming in, boys,' he told them. 'I'd get out of the way if I were you.' 'Right,' replied a nervous processor looking at the angry crowd. 'I think it's time we had a tea break.' The shellfishermen overturned mounds of fish piled up to the ceiling in 6ft-long crates. It was all over in 10 minutes and was, Mr Brooks admits, staged mainly for television cameramen, one of whom asked if the fishermen could 'riot' again so he could get some better shots.

Yesterday, fears of both the police and fishermen that 'local hooligans' would jump on the bandwagon and cause real violence were not realised.

The root cause of the crisis is a flood of cheap imports into the EC from Russian trawlers desperate for hard currency. This sparked the first demonstrations in France three weeks ago, when the French blamed Britain for allowing Baltic fish into the EC. British fishermen said the French had also taken the opportunity to attack British exports to France, which are now 15 per cent cheaper because of the devaluation of the pound.

In Concarneau, Brittany, Jos Franch, skipper of the Pere-Yvon, said wholesalers buying Russian fish were 'taking the bread out of our mouths'.

Both British and French fishermen blame Whitehall for failing to force Russian and Norwegian trawlers to observe EC minimum prices. Pascal Beaucoup, a leader of the Breton campaign, said British and Irish fishermen suffered because their governments fail to take fish from the market and turn it into animal feed to keep prices high. 'Cornish fishermen are coming here to sell their fish because they know they can get a proper price for it,' he said.

Last Friday, Richard Banks, chief executive of the British National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, called for a ban on Russian and non-EC imports. 'Dumping has led to the price of cod on the Grimsby docks halving in less than a year,' he said. 'The Russians are desperate for hard currency and will go straight to the agents and processors, who are not going to say no.'

Last week, senior figures in the Seafish Industry Authority - the statutory body representing processors and retailers (who want fish to be as cheap as possible) as well as trawlermen (who do not) - said Britain imported 50 per cent of its fish and had a vested interest in allowing a free market.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries' answer to the glut of fish is fewer British fishermen. 'We are aiming at a 19 per cent reduction in capacity over the next three years,' a spokesman said.

This further infuriates the Milford Haven fishermen, who time and again condemn the Government for failing to stand up for British fishing interests. Mr Brooks has written twice to John Gummer, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, asking him to meet South Wales fishermen. He said he had not even received a reply.

'We don't really hate the French,' he said. 'They've got wives and kids and mortgages to pay, like us. That's why there hasn't been any serious violence here. If we could get Gummer down to Milford it would be a different matter.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links