A dozen fishing boats blocked the entrance to the commercial port of Bayonne (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) on Wednesday March 29 in the morning to alert “the death of artisanal fishing”on the eve of an unprecedented “dead sector” operation in French ports.
For several days, the anger has been rising: muscular demonstrations in Rennes or Lorient, blockages in Boulogne-sur-Mer…
Professionals denounce “unsuitable European regulations”in particular the prohibition of bottom fishing in marine protected areas by 2030, and the recent decision of the Council of State, seized by several associations for the defense of the environment, 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.
After a similar operation launched Sunday evening in Boulogne-sur-Mer, the main French port, boats from Bayonne, Saint-Jean-de-Luz or Capbreton, displayed banners with flags on Wednesday in the Adour estuary. posts like “State + NGO = death of artisanal fishing” Or “sailors are threatened”. “We are here this morning because we have no choice, our survival is at stake”told Agence France-Presse Olivier Mercier, fisherman from Arcachon, owner of two boats.
Mr. Mercier assured that the “dolphins trapped in nets” were only one “minority” and was surprised by the recent presence of these cetaceans in the Seine, Lake Capbreton (Landes) or stranded alive on beaches in Charente-Maritime. “I think that beyond the problem of fishing, there is an environmental problem, there is perhaps something that affects them”he added. “NGOs attack all trades, gillnetters, trawlers, etc. We are harassed. There, it is no longer only the fishing method that is in question, it is the sailor-fisherman who must be eliminated from France”denounces Jean-Yves Elissalde, a fisherman in Bayonne.
For the first time, the National Fisheries Committee is calling for dead days in French ports to demand responses from the government to this series of“attacks” weakening the sector, in a climate of tensions never seen since the Brexit crisis. Not a boat at sea, not a fish sold, no fish trading, no processing: the unprecedented “dead sector” operation is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, with each local committee choosing the day or days that suit it.
In Boulogne-sur-Mer, where the mobilization began on Sunday evening with the blocking of the port, the auction closed on Tuesday: fishermen warned European ships spawning in the Channel not to come and unload their fish. “The cup is full and we must give a future to all the players in our sector because today the horizon is dark”says the National Fisheries Committee.
The committee specifies that these “dead industry” days are the result of a “unitary action”contact details between fishermen, auctions and wholesalers: because, in the long term, “the disappearance of part of the fleet will directly threaten the entire employment pool of the ports, including the processing plants”.
Following a meeting with the national committee, the Secretary of State for the Sea, Hervé Berville, said on Tuesday “in solidarity with the spirit of the movement” and promised to “strengthen collective work” committed, in particular against certain European regulations, in a statement to AFP. Fishermen are demanding payment of diesel aid, of which “some have not been paid for six months”, and the harmonization of fisheries control and vessel safety rules in France, where a complex administrative layering paralyzes investments due to a lack of visibility. In a word, they rebel against “disengagement” of State.
The observation is bitter, while the French fleet has already decreased by more than a quarter in twenty years and the national fishery represents only 25% of the fish sold on the stalls. After Brexit, which resulted in ninety ships being sent for scrapping, professionals judge the very existence of the sector “compromised by incessant harassment and piecemeal support without support towards a vision of the future”.
They expressed this anger to the President, Emmanuel Macron, in an open letter sent last week and have since demanded to be received by the Head of State. Pending a response, the Fisheries Committee “calls on all professional representatives to suspend their participation in environmental management bodies”.
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A gesture of discontent but also the sign of deep distress, when for five years, “Fishermen are at the initiative of scientific and technical programs to determine avoidance solutions (repellent sonars, special nets), to reconcile fishing activities and dolphin protection” and that they have “already limited fishing periods and areas” For “taking care of the resource”according to the chairman of the committee, Olivier Le Nézet.
Mr. Berville renewed the State’s commitment to fight against the European plan on the prohibition of bottom trawls and expressed his desire to “find the way with all the actors to continue to deploy an action plan against accidental captures of cetaceans”. He is also committed to facilitating the “administrative daily life of fishermen”. Will that be enough? “We want to avoid any movement of violence. And that is why we warn that we must act now. We now want answers and a clear timetable”said Mr. Le Nézet.