Fishermen mount blockade on imports

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The Independent Online
FISHERMEN'S leaders called for talks on cheap imports of white fish yesterday after incidents at ports in the north of England, Scotland and France.

Scottish fishermen poured oil over a Russian ship's catch at Peterhead and in Grimsby fishermen mounted a blockade to prevent a lorry load of French fish from being sold on the open market. The two incidents, although separate, highlighted deep frustration over falling prices, cheap imports and the restrictions placed on crews over how many days they can fish.

The incidents also showed that the fishermen are prepared to take militant action, in the same way as their French colleagues, to stop imports. Meanwhile, French fishermen were again involved in violence yesterday when they fought with police in Nantes, north-west France, destroying fish in the process.

Up to 100 Scottish fishermen boarded a Russian fish-factory ship, the Romb, berthed in Peterhead, Europe's largest white-fish handling port. The men poured three drums of diesel oil down hatches, destroying tons of fish. The protesters also made it clear that the incident would not be isolated. 'I would say anger is very high, especially this week. It's getting worse. If we are going to sea for a full trip and we are not getting any money out of it it's not viable to go to sea,' one man said.

Bob Allen, of the Scottish Fishing Federation, said that the men see themselves as having to compete with 'massive imports'. He added: 'One has a fair degree of sympathy . . . What they want is some priority to be given to our fish. A sensible assessment should be made as to what the EC market needs are.' He urged Community fisheries ministers, due to meet in Brussels next week, to make the issue a priority.

In Grimsby, about 30 fishermen prevented a lorry carrying 600 boxes of French-caught fish, shipped in through Milford Haven, from being sold. One boat owner, Derek Allard, whose own imports to France were affected last week, said that the action in Grimsby had worked. 'From my own point of view it was a success. It is not something we want but it is something the French have created,' he said.

One of the fishermen involved in the blockade, Paul Smith, said that he felt people were 'profiteering' by accepting fish imports. 'We feel that the housewife should be paying pounds 1 per pound, not pounds 2.40, the way the prices are going now. What we want to do is stop the French fish landing. If they can do it over there to British fish we will do it here.'

In the end, the dispute is about price and quantity. The EC agreed last month to set minimum quayside prices for cod, haddock and other white fish to prevent undercutting by Russian skippers by between 15 and 30 per cent. This plan is supposed to last four months.

British fishermen have been getting about pounds 45 to pounds 50 for a hundredweight box of cod, which is about pounds 30 less than in January. Haddock also has dropped from about pounds 70 a box to pounds 24. But coupled with this there has been a surge in supplies from the former Soviet Union where fishing controls have broken down. The Russians are just trying to catch as much fish as possible and then off-load it in the best market place.

The French, too, suffer from cheap imports from Russia and Chile and the Government there has promised to make available some 280m francs (pounds 3.6m) to help their fishermen. Imports in France amount to between 30 and 40 per cent.

John Gummer, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, yesterday condemned the action taken by British fishermen. He said on the BBC's World at One: 'It is no way to get the French to obey the law by breaking the law ourselves. I understand why they are angry but we must make the French obey the law and we in Britain must not be led astray by the example of the French.'

However, further landings are expected in Grimsby with little hope of fishermen allowing them to be sold.