Ports blocked in cod quota protest
BOULOGNE, France -- Fishermen blockaded three key ports in northern France for five hours in protest at proposals to cut fishing quotas.
Passenger ferries and shipping traffic were disrupted as the fishermen prevented sailings from Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk into the English Channel -- one of Europe's busiest shipping lanes.
The fishermen are protesting against European Commission proposals to cut fishing quotas for cod by 80 percent, which they say will cripple the industry.
Loik Jagot, secretary-general of France's Federation of Fish Production Organisations, told The Associated Press: "Reducing quotas by 80 percent isn't protection -- it's death for the industry."
But EU officials blame overfishing for the decline in stocks and say the drastic cutbacks are needed to ensure the survival of the fishing industry for future generations.
"There is no getting away from the need to be farsighted and responsible," EU Agriculture and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler wrote in an open letter to fisherman on Wednesday.
Hundreds of fishermen, from places such as Britain, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands took part in the Boulogne blockade to show solidarity with their French counterparts.
Protesters fired flares into the air. One landed on the Nausicaa maritime museum, causing a temporary fire on its roof and forcing the evacuation of workers. Firefighters put out the blaze.
Similar protests were taking place elsewhere. In the port of Zeebrugge, Belgium, about 100 fishermen started a protest march and hoped to block the main dock.
Demonstrators from around Britain's North Sea ports also joined the protest.
A flotilla of about 30 boats gathered at the mouth of the River Tyne before sailing upstream, letting off flares and sounding their horns in a noisy demonstration. But fishermen did not block the river.
Britain's fisheries minister Elliot Morley warned that the proposed cuts in cod quotas went too far.
"I think it will have a devastating consequence on the fishing industry," he told the BBC.
But while he accepted that the science on cod levels was "very bad", he said it was clear that stocks were "very precarious" and that some action had to be taken to preserve them for the future.
"We do have to put measures in place and they are going to be difficult for the industry," he said.
A spokesman for the British Federation of Fisherman's Organisations said: "Fishermen are willing to make the necessary steps to rebuild the cod stocks but there must be a balance between rebuilding the stocks and sustaining the livelihoods of fishermen.
"Fishermen are not willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of cod recovery within two or three years."
EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy expressed sympathy for the fishermen but defended the commission's decision.
"We understand them (the fishermen)," he told RTL radio. But "there are less and less fish and someone must act to preserve the stocks of fish so that there will still be fish, and fishermen will still have work in a few years."
"It is for the common good and one must manage (the situation) wisely," he said.
The 15-nation European Union is to decide next week how much cod, haddock and whitefish can be caught in 2003.