Blockade to stop imports of fish

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Fishermen at Grimsby, Humberside, have mounted a 24-hour blockade to prevent cheap Russian and Norwegian fish coming in overland by lorry. The unofficial action follows days of unrest during which cargoes of Russian and French fish have been turned back or destroyed at ports in Britain.

The blockade involves fishermen and dock workers, who are operating a round-the-clock rota to prevent foreign-caught fish entering the port by lorry. They are protesting at imports from Russia and Norway which have depressed the market and led to a slump in prices, in some cases by as much as 50 per cent.

French catches are being targeted, too, because, although French fishermen are suffering the same low prices, they have been destroying British fish as well as Russian and Norwegian because of its cheaper price owing to the weakness of sterling.

However, Scottish herring and mackerel fishermen, who sell most of their catches to Russian factory ships, said yesterday that their trade would be ruined if the Russians retaliated.

Jim Slater, the chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Producers Association, said that the 70 vessels in the Scottish pelagic fleet, which represented about 800 fishermen, rely on Russian factory ships, docking mainly at Ullapool and Lerwick, to take almost 250,000 tons of fish - 80 per cent of their annual catch.

Tony Scatterty, managing director of the processors, Connors Seafood, in Peterhead, said that if the Russians decided to boycott the UK market because of dangers that their cargoes would be destroyed, 'then the entire mackerel and herring fleet would collapse'.

But Grimsby fishermen mounting the blockade say that the Russians and Norwegians are dumping white fish on the UK market.

Max Visholm, skipper of a Grimsby boat, said: 'The Government says that the market for white fish is protected by the minimum landing price for foreign fish but it is so low we would be bankrupt if we sold fish at that price. The Norwegians are being subsidised by their government so they can afford to sell their catch at what amounts to a loss. And the Russians are just desperate for hard currency.'

Since 1 January, after years of enforced EC reductions in white fish catches to conserve stock, haddock quotas for the Scottish boats were almost doubled. Boats were tied up in port through most of December owing to last year's quotas running out and storms resulted in little fishing throughout January. When boats did get out in the last few weeks the market was flooded with white fish at lower prices.

The Russian boat attacked by Peterhead fisherman had sold all its catch worth an estimated pounds 250,000. This, said one local skipper, was 'like a red rag to a bull'.