Stage set for clash over fish: Minister 'to read riot act' at talks

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN is set for a confrontation with France over fish after David Curry, the fisheries minister, said he would 'read the riot act' over French violence.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Curry said that he would present a package of measures to help the industry at today's meeting of EC fisheries ministers. He referred to the 'deep sense of revulsion' people felt at seeing fish 'mutilated' in violent protests, and added that he would press France to make sure British exports were not impeded.

The British Embassy in Paris had made arrangements to remain in touch with local authorities in France and there was provision for convoys and special protection, he said. Last night John Gummer, Minister of Agriculture, said France had given fresh assurances that its local authorities would help to protect British exports.

With falls in fish prices of between 20 and 40 per cent, there is a growing clamour in Britain and France for new measures to help fishermen. The EC has put in place a system of import prices for fish coming from outside the Community, but that does not seem to have helped.

Mr Curry outlined a series of measures that Britain would put forward today to improve the situation. Imports from outside the EC - in particular Russia - were still coming in below the minimum price through Germany, Denmark and Britain, and must be stopped, he said.

Tighter enforcement of hygiene rules would help since many of the fish were sub-standard. Britain might also consider a unilateral ban on imports that fell below certain standards.

The minister said he would recommend looking again at new import and tariff agreements with countries such as Norway, Sweden and Russia to stop things getting out of hand.

But he added that Britain opposed an import ban since that might prevent the processing industry getting the stocks it needed. Scottish fishermen are also opposed since they trade with the Russian fishing fleet.

Earlier, Charles Josselin, the French minister, said he wanted a 30 per cent increase in minimum import prices and a ban on Russian cod. Last night, Belgian police were moving anti-riot equipment into Brussels.