PARIS, May 21 (Reuters) - The French government on Wednesday offered the fishing industry 110 million euros ($173 million) in aid this year after days of protests by fishermen angry over the rising cost of diesel.
Fishermen have been blocking access to fuel depots and harbours and on Wednesday they extended their protest to cross-Channel ferry terminals at Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk, halting much traffic to Britain.
The fishermen say they face bankruptcy unless the government intervenes because the cost of marine diesel has risen by 30 percent since the beginning of the year.
Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said after hours of talks with industry representatives that a three-year plan which had already been announced would be accelerated in light of the crisis.
“Our choice ... is to respond to the anxieties that are being expressed by extending, intensifying and accelerating the implementation of the plan,” Barnier told reporters, adding that the industry representatives were satisfied with the proposal.
The plan, announced in January, had originally been worth 310 million euros over three years, but Barnier said it would now be implemented over two years.
However, the aid is subject to approval from the European Union. Barnier has asked Brussels for permission to help the sector and the European Commission is studying his proposals.
In Paris, protesting fishermen scuffled with police near the agriculture and fisheries ministry ahead of the talks between their representatives and Barnier.
Police said three officers were seriously injured when fishermen fired flares at them.
Oil giants Total and ExxonMobil reported fishermen were blocking truck traffic at their La Mede and Fos-sur-Mer refineries, which supply service stations in the Marseille region in the southeast.
Fishermen continued to besiege fuel depots along the coastline, although police forcibly removed them from two depots supplying the southwestern city of Bordeaux.
All major fishing ports and some commercial ports were also blockaded by fishing boats, some carrying banners that said “Sarkozy, liar! Seamen are dying” in reference to promises by President Nicolas Sarkozy last year to aid the industry.
Sarkozy said on Tuesday 30 million euros had already been disbursed to help fishermen this year as part of the plan announced in January.
Stiff competition from imported fish, which makes up 85 percent of French consumption, and depleted fish stocks close to the coasts which force boats to sail further out to sea, have compounded the fuel problem.
Competition from importers, as well as the traditional auction system for fresh fish mean that it is difficult for fishermen to pass on the rising cost of diesel to consumers.
The fishing industry employs about 24,000 people in France, and provides another 70,000 jobs in related sectors.
The cost of marine diesel has risen to 75 euro cents a litre on average from 58 cents at the start of 2008.