Fishing plan fuels protest on land

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Thousands of fishermen, led by a flotilla of trawlers on the Thames, converged on Westminster yesterday in protest against plans to limit the number of days on which they may fish.

Accompanied by an all-party group of MPs, they held a rally at Westminster Central Hall before moving on to Downing Street, where they handed in a petition.

The men were protesting against the Government's Sea Fish (Conservation) Bill, which they say will restrict their time at sea and cut their income. The Bill, which is in its committee stage, was drafted as part of EC plans to conserve depleted fish stocks, but British fishermen argue that it will force many of them out of business while their European counterparts prosper.

Charlie Dawson, president of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, which organised the protest, said: 'This is an enabling Bill which will give the Government the power to do what they want with us. Fishermen are already struggling, but this will reduce their income by 30 per cent - conservation may be achieved in the end, but only by bankrupting the industry.'

Mr Dawson was joined on the steps of Downing Street by Austin Mitchell, Labour MP for Grimsby, Elliot Morley, Labour MP for Glanford and Scunthorpe, Jim Wallace, a Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesman, David Harris, Conservative MP for St Ives, and Keith Floyd, the chef whose television series popularised cooking with fish.

Most of the demonstrators chose to target John Gummer, the Secretary of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as the object of their anger. Many carried effigies of the minister and banners proclaiming: 'MBE - Gummer; END Fleetwood', and 'Whitehaven Fishermen Say Gummer Should Be Exported'.

Mr Mitchell said the Bill would 'do nothing for conservation because it does not impose restrictions on quotas. Fishermen would be forced to grab as much as they could in the time available'.

A French vessel was last night under Royal Navy escort after being stopped in the Western Approaches allegedly catching prohibited species.