(Brest) “If we have no more fish, the whole industry will sink”: hundreds of French fishermen angry at regulations, especially European ones, launched an unprecedented “dead industry” operation on Thursday.
Professionals denounce “unsuitable European regulations”, in particular the ban on bottom fishing in marine protected areas by 2030.
They also criticize the decision of the French Council of State imposing within six months the closure of certain fishing areas in the Atlantic in order to preserve the dolphins whose strandings have multiplied in the Bay of Biscay.
Dolphin strandings have multiplied in recent months on the beaches of the Atlantic coast in France, including at least 910 this winter according to the latest count from the oceanographic observatory Pelagis. In the majority of cases, these dead dolphins show traces of capture by fishing gear.
For several days, a little overshadowed by the protests against the pension reform, anger has been rising, illustrated by strong demonstrations in Rennes or Lorient and blockages in Boulogne.
In Brest, on the Atlantic coast, several hundred fishermen gathered at the port, firing distress flares and burning smoke bombs from their trawlers and incidents broke out at midday, noted a journalist from the AFP.
Demonstrators lit fires with garbage cans in particular in front of the headquarters of the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB, the “environmental police”), targeted by rocket fire and projectile jets. A protester was injured in the throat by a rocket fired by another protester.
For Brittany, “all ports and ships are at a standstill,” said Jacques Doudet, secretary general of the Brittany regional fisheries committee.
In Boulogne-sur-Mer, the main French port where no boat has landed its catch since Sunday evening, Thursday morning, the only movement was that of a mannequin in yellow raincoat, hanging from the crane of a boat, swinging at will the wind. Also in Le Havre, around sixty boats were blocking the port, noted an AFP correspondent.
The Norman fishermen meanwhile carried out a “free toll operation” on the Normandy bridge, mobilizing around a hundred people.
The Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, who said he was “in solidarity with the spirit of the movement”, was expected in Sables-d’Olonne to meet the fishermen.
The national call also invited wholesalers and sellers of seafood products to join the movement.
“If we don’t have any more fish, the whole industry sinks. We can find fish elsewhere, but we prefer to work with French, sustainable fishing, which knows what it is doing, “said an AFP correspondent Simon Paitrault, a 30-year-old fishmonger in Saint-Jean- de-Luz (south-west).
The day after the blockade of the commercial port of Bayonne, around forty fishermen paraded on the auction, to raise awareness among consumers with leaflets and petitions, and fishmongers lowered the curtain.
As for the wholesalers of Boulogne-sur-Mer, “it’s complicated”, breathes Alexis Delplanque, employee at Martin Marée, who works the scallop shell. “Right now, there’s nothing on the docks, so we’re bringing everything in by road, from Dieppe.”
Fishermen blocking? “It bothers us a bit, but they have no choice. It’s for the future.”
The National Fisheries Committee launched these “united action” days in a climate of tensions not seen since the Brexit crisis.
Expand marine protected areas and ban bottom trawling, better counter overexploitation, less energy-consuming boats… The European Commission presented its plan at the end of February to “green” the fishing sector, immediately decried by professionals.
States will be required to adopt measures to “phase out” by 2030 bottom fishing in marine protected areas (12% of European waters currently, 30% targeted by 2030), regardless of their depth. Each country will have to establish its roadmap by March 2024.