They were several hundred in Rennes on Wednesday, in a thick cloud of tear gas and under the powerful jets of water cannons to denounce "the regulations and persecution of the direction of maritime affairs", but also the price of diesel and the "disengagement" of the State. The confrontation, forceful, lasted several hours.

"They would like to make us enraged that we would not do better," said the national fisheries committee in an open letter to President Macron that AFP was able to consult.

Food sovereignty, everyone talks about it, but when it comes to making it a reality, there is no one left," enrages the president of the committee Olivier Le Nézet in this letter.

He evokes "aggressions" that have become "intolerable" because they "call into question the foundation of our profession, feeding the French and Europeans", while the French fleet has decreased by more than a quarter in 20 years and national fishing represents only 25% of the fish sold on the stalls.

On Monday, a decision of the Council of State has ignited the powder: the highest French administrative court, seized by environmental associations, gave the government six months to close some fishing areas in the Atlantic to preserve dolphins whose strandings have multiplied in the Bay of Biscay.

'Double punishment'

"For five years, our fishermen have been at the initiative of scientific and technical programs to determine avoidance solutions (repellent sonars, special nets to keep cetaceans away, editor's note), to reconcile fishing activities and the protection of dolphins (...). The Council of State has just called everything into question," says Olivier Le Nezet.

Questioned by AFP, Mr. The Nezet "obviously condemned" the violent excesses in Rennes - a tractor was thrown in the direction of the police - while stressing the "distress of an entire profession".

Clashes between riot police and protesters in Rennes, on March 22, 2023 in Ille-et-Vilaine © DAMIEN MEYER / AFP

"Almost half of the 560 netters in the Bay of Biscay are participating in the dolphin action plan. They are looking for solutions with scientists. This decision of the Council of State is a double penalty," he said, believing that it is precisely the "good management" of the fishery resource in the Bay of Biscay that attracts cetaceans and explains at least in part the increase in strandings.

"75% of resources are managed sustainably in Europe, more needs to be done. But you can't ask a trawler to become a netter overnight," he said, referring to the European plan to ban bottom trawls in marine protected areas (MPAs).

At the Salon de l'agriculture, Emmanuel Macron had assured fishermen of his support on this issue, while the sector is facing the costly decarbonization of its fleet and faces a recruitment crisis.

The Fisheries Committee believes that the mere ban on bottom trawls would amount to "eliminating a third of the fleet", because MPAs currently represent 12% of European waters, but up to "74% of waters in Brittany".

In the English Channel, where several areas have sandy bottoms, the committee asks "how to explain to a trawler that it will no longer be able to pass" so as not to damage the bottoms, while "at the slightest blow of tobacco, millions of cubic meters of sand are moved?"

Clashes during a fishermen's demonstration in Rennes, March 22, 2023 © DAMIEN MEYER / AFP

"We have to do it on a case-by-case basis, examine the particularities of each zone," argues Olivier Le Nézet. To the president, he asks "a pause in this avalanche of bad moves".

© 2023 AFP