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
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas