Not a boat at sea, not a fish sold, no fish trading, no processing: the unprecedented "dead port" operation is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, each local committee choosing the day or days that suit it. It is organized this Tuesday in the north of the France.

In Boulogne-sur-Mer, the main French port, where the mobilization began Sunday evening with the blockade of the port, we go up a notch this Tuesday, with the closure of the auction: fishermen warned European ships spawning in the Channel not to come to land their fish, where no one would treat them during the movement.

"The cup is full and we must give a future to all the actors of our sector because today the horizon is bleak," said the national committee of marine fisheries and marine farms (CNPMEM), in a statement published Tuesday.

In an attempt to defuse the crisis, the Secretary of State for the Sea Hervé Berville invited the members of the national committee to a meeting by videoconference at midday.

Boulogne-sur-Mer, France's main fishing port, November 3, 2021 © DENIS CHARLET / AFP/Archives

For several days, anger has been rising: strong demonstrations in Rennes or Lorient, blockades in Boulogne or awareness-raising operations, with the distribution of fish in Capbreton (New Aquitaine).

"Unitary action"

The professionals denounce "inadequate European regulations", including the recent ban on bottom fishing in marine protected areas by 2030, the price of diesel, the closure of certain fishing areas in the Atlantic to preserve dolphins whose strandings have multiplied in the Bay of Biscay and, ultimately, the "disengagement" of the State.

"The accumulation of standards, threats, litigation calls into question the very foundation of our profession by making us feel guilty for exercising our professions: the only objective is to feed the French and Europeans," says the committee.

The situation is bitter, 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.

After the health crisis and Brexit, which led to the scrapping of 90 ships, professionals consider 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 President Emmanuel Macron, in an open letter sent last week, calling for "a pause in this avalanche of bad moves", and have since demanded to be received by the head of state.

Pending a response, the Committee on Fisheries "calls on all professional representatives to suspend their participation in environmental management bodies".

A gesture of anger but also the sign of deep distress, when for five years, "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 protection of dolphins (...)", that they have "already limited fishing periods and areas" to "take care of the resource", according to the chair of the committee, Olivier Le Nezet.

© Lou BENOIST / AFP/Archives

The committee specifies that the "dead port" days organized on Thursday and Friday are the result of a "unitary action", coordinated between fishermen, auctions and fish merchants: "It is not a question of weakening ourselves. Others think for us."

President Macron had made a gesture at the Salon de l'agriculture, announcing an extension of fuel aid and affirming his support for the sector against the European plan on the total ban on bottom trawls. That was not enough.

The anger is deep and "we are not immune to violence" as we saw in Rennes last Wednesday, said Tuesday an official of the sector.

© 2023 AFP