French fisherman unblock two Channel ports

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The Independent Travel

French fishermen demanding an increase to limits on cod catches temporarily lifted a blockade on the ports of Calais and Dunkirk on today to consider a government offer of four million euros ($5.29 million) in aid.

But entry to the port of Boulogne remained shut as unions continued their protests against European Union limits aimed at protecting dwindling cod stocks in the North Sea.

The French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier met fishermen for more than four hours on Wednesday and offered four million euros to compensate them for days when they are unable to work because they have already hit the quota limit.

French ministers point out that a 30 percent increase in cod limits in parts of the Channel was agreed at the last meeting of European Union officials to set quotas in December.

Barnier said France could not make changes to the quotas on its own but he promised to seek improvements in 2010.

"We should manage this situation to provide for them now and modify, change a certain number of things at the European level but that takes a bit more time," Barnier said on LCI Television.

The fisherman said they were not satisfied by the talks.

"We do not want money but the right to work," said CFDT union representative Stephane Pinto.

The fishermen say they are forced to stay ashore or throw away fish caught because taking them ashore would breach quotas.

For years, scientists have said cod is so badly overfished in EU waters that it runs the risk of extinction and the European Commission ruled out any increase in quotas that are agreed in annual meetings in December.

"When the minister says he obtained an increase of 30 percent on cod fishing in December, it's true. But that leaves French fishermen 9,000 tonnes for 2009. In 1993, the quotas were 150,000 tonnes," Patrick Ramet, a fisherman from Boulogne, told Le Parisien newspaper.

"I am allowed to fish 10 tonnes a year. If I want, I can fish this quantity in a week. Since the beginning of the month I am no longer allowed to fish cod, soon we will reach the quotas for hake ... In short, it's impossible to work."

President Nicolas Sarkozy said last year that France would seek an overhaul of the quota system.

Blockading ports is a time-honoured tactic by French fishermen and there were several episodes last year to demand help with spiralling fuel prices at a time when crude oil cost more than $100 a barrel.

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