French fishermen blockade Calais port in pulse fishing protest
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French fishermen protesting losses caused by electric pulse fishing in the North Sea blockaded the port of Calais on Thursday, backing up traffic on one of Europe’s busiest shipping routes.
The fishermen said they had been promised a meeting Friday with government officials to discuss their grievances.
The blockade caused delays for travellers and hauliers on the other side of the Channel as ferry services were disrupted.
Pulse fishing involves fitting nets with electrodes and pulling them above the seabed. The electric current sends shocks through the sediment, forcing the fish up out of the sand into the trawler’s nets.
The method is widely used by Dutch vessels fishing for sole, raising the hackles of the French, who say it harms fish stocks, even though less than one percent of European trawlers use it.
“The Dutch have wrecked the sea. There are no more fish,” said Christian Dubois, the Calais-based representative of a fishing industry body.
Both P&O Ferries and the Danish shipping company DFDS, which also runs ferries between France and Britain, said their vessels had been delayed by the protest.
The fishermen eventually accepted to allow one ferry through towards England every hour, a source in the port authority said.
P&O resorted to directing some customers towards the Channel tunnel while DFDS rerouted some of its ferries through the French port of Dunkirk, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Calais.
Access to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France’s biggest fishing port, about 30 kilometres southwest of Calais, was also disrupted.
Two French trawlers blockaded access to the part of the port where Dutch vessels unload their catches and a dozen fishermen blocked a main road leading to the port.
DFDS France’s director of operations, Sebastien Douvry, warned that the blockade in Calais would leave truckers vulnerable to migrants who mob lorries and try to climb aboard in order to smuggle into Britain.
Culinary cause celebre
Pulse fishing has become a cause celebre in France, prompting a boycott by 200 top European chefs of seafood netted using the technique.
French environmentalists allege that pulse fishing produces catches of poor quality and leaves the fish bruised claims disputed by the Dutch, who invented the experimental trawling method.
Dubois demanded 30,000 euros in state aid per French trawler over three years to offset the alleged impact on fish stocks.
European institutions are at odds over the issue, with the EU’s commissioner for fisheries arguing that the use of electric currents is safer for the environment than methods that plough up the seabed.
Under current EU rules, member states can equip up to five percent of their fleets with electrodes.
Some 84 Dutch boats use the practice, alongside three Belgian vessels.
The parliament, the EU’s only directly elected body, will now try to strike a compromise with the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, and the European Council, which groups the 28 member states.