A crisis without end

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The Independent Online
THE violent passions that were unleashed by French fishermen in Brittany yesterday signal a deep-seated crisis in the French fishing sector. It shows every sign of deteriorating as the industry stumbles from one crisis to another. The French fishing fleet is in trouble because of a sharp deterioration in the fresh-fish market as more customers turn to cheaper alternatives such as chicken and pork.

The magnificent displays of seafood outside the finest Paris restaurants disguise what is in reality an industry in crisis. The financial problems of trawler owners and fish wholesalers are such that two out of three companies could go out of business this year, according to the French fishing press.

The main difficulty is falling demand brought on by the recession. Cheaper imports from Russia and other East European countries, entering under terms of ever more liberal trade deals, make the prospects for an improvement look slim. Another problem is the glut of farmed fish, mostly Norwegian salmon, which has come to the European market. All this combines to drive down the price of wild fish caught by trawlers by up to 30 per cent.

Much of the French fishing fleet is going through the terminal decline that affected the British fleet in the 1980s. One difference however, is that the country's mostly Breton fishermen have a long tradition of violently taking to the streets to drive home their demands.

Government measures agreed to on Wednesday to help the industry have been dismissed as inadequate by the thousands of young fishermen who clashed violently with police in Rennes yesterday. The Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur, blamed cheap foreign imports for the fishermen's problems and promised to provide more help for increase fish prices, guarantees for fishermen's incomes and aid for stricken trawler owners.