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Wednesday, 11 December, 2002, 17:34 GMT
Fish protests cause Channel chaos
An unidentified fisherman stands on the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, northern France, draped in the English flag
The fishermen say their livelihoods are threatened
Fishermen from several European countries are disrupting shipping between France and England, in a day of protests against drastic cuts in fishing quotas proposed by the European Union.

Trawlers are blockading French and Belgian ports, preventing ferries and other commercial boats from sailing in or out.

This is a show of force. If the fishing quota cuts come in, we are absolutely done for

Bruno Margolle, trawler captain
They are also obstructing shipping lanes in the North Sea and along the English Channel, one of the busiest sea lanes in the world.

The protesters - from France, Britain, Ireland, Denmark and Belgium - say predicted cuts of up to 80% in cod fishing quotas, as well as lower limits on catches of haddock and whiting, would destroy their industry.

European agriculture ministers meet next week to discuss the proposals, which EU Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler said were necessary because regional fish stocks were dangerously low.

Stopping traffic

The protesters' aim was to stop boats entering and leaving the French ports of Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk, as well as Belgian terminals in Ostend and Zeebrugge.

Fishing trawlers in Boulogne-sur-Mer
Trawlers are preventing ships from coming in and out of ports
"It's a success. There is an incredible amount of chaos. Cargo ships are slowing right down, and some are even getting in the wrong shipping lane," said the secretary general of the French CFTC fisheries union, Jacques Bigot.

At the same time, some 50 trawlers are slowing the passage of ships in the English Channel.

Cross-channel ferry operators say many of their sailings are being cancelled because of the disruption - which protesters vowed would continue until 1500 GMT on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in the UK, up to 200 fishing boats are protesting on the River Tyne in a similar action.

Economic disaster

Fishermen say the European Commission's planned quota reductions will put them out of business.

The cuts will "lead to the collapse not just of small and large-scale fishing fleets but also of the whole economic chain that depends on them," said Jacques Bigot.

The proposals follow a warning from scientists that over-fishing has led to a serious depletion of cod, haddock and whiting - and that zero quotas are needed to safeguard the future of these species.

Franz Fischler
European Commissioner Franz Fischler backs drastic cuts
For the past 15 years, political pressure has led to quotas being set an average of 30% above the recommendations made by the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES).

Speaking on BBC radio, British Fisheries Minister Elliot Morley acknowledged that the reforms would be "devastating" for British fisherman.

"But if we don't take action then we will be in a downward spiral on fish stocks and we will end up, in the worst case, with a Canadian-type situation where cod will disappear commercially from the North Sea," he said.

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