Brittany fishermen protest at Britain

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The Independent Online
FRENCH trawlermen protesting in the Breton port of Roscoff against cheap fish imports forced a British ferry carrying lorries of fish to divert to Cherbourg yesterday, writes Sarah Lambert.

The protesters ransacked sheds owned by a merchant they said dealt in British fish and hundreds of people took to the streets of Concarneau and neighbouring ports to show their support.

The European Commission is considering emergency measures and will meet EC experts on Thursday to discuss price support. Under EC rules it is up to the Commission to decide what to do. The French complain that they have been hit from two sides. On the one hand, cheap imports from non-EC countries such as Russia and Chile and even the United States are flooding their traditional markets. On the other, they are being undercut by British fisherman whose fish, they say, is even cheaper thanks to the devaluation of the pound.

The EC has established a safety net to guarantee prices should they fall below a certain level, but this can be triggered only by producer organisations. There are few sanctions that can be taken against fellow EC producers who choose to sell below this price.

The fishing industry's anger is largely directed at third-country imports. The French know their industry is reasonably well protected and if they are feeling the pinch, their British colleagues are probably harder hit.

British fleets were forced to tie up at the end of the year because their annual quota had been exhausted and, like many EC colleagues, were unable to put out for much of January because of bad weather. As a result, fishing was particularly heavy this month, which may account for some of the recent problems.

The Commission, which discussed the problem yesterday, proposes to set minimum prices for non-EC imports, as it has done in the past to solve an over- supply of Norwegian salmon.

(Photograph omitted)