French fishermen protest against new fishing licences

Image copyright Sky Images Image caption French fishermen hold out signs and call for support during their blockade of the Normandy coast

France’s fishermen are protesting against the government’s decision to grant them new fishing licences.

Hundreds of fish boats, carrying tractors and boats, blocked a channel port and raised flags and signs calling for help in what protesters said would be a long-term blockade.

Boat drivers blocked access to the port of Le Havre and stood along the Josphat strait on the French coast near Dunkirk in an protest which has been ongoing for a week.

The government has tried to calm tensions.

In a statement, it says it is “deeply concerned by what is happening in the waters of the Ile de France and is trying to put an end to this provocation, which is dangerous”.

Who are the protesters?

The fishing vessels protest is the latest round in a long-running spat between the French fishing community and the government.

Between 30-50% of fish caught in the area is exported to the EU.

Florence Poggioli from the French fishermen’s union CGT – whose members were among those on the blockades – said the boats had been ordered to block access to the French mainland on Monday.

“I don’t see why they would let this happen – for the sake of the EU [which] pays €70m [£60m] to the French government every year, they need to be in control of their waters,” she said.

“We are asking for people to send us their boats. We have 600 unemployed fishermen, so without people’s boats we’re not able to access international markets.”

France’s coastguard said: “We are monitoring the situation and are working with our law enforcement colleagues to protect the evacuation of fishermen.”

The new licences were granted to local fishermen to allow them to increase their catches in a bid to satisfy demands from the EU, while also improving their environment.

Explainer: Restrictions on fishing

But the fishing community says they will have no control over their fishing grounds as they have little idea how the new licences will operate and say they are “disappointed” at the government’s handling of the issue.

Protests at the coast in France last year saw thousands of fishermen block the busy English Channel, calling for better protection of their fishing grounds and better compensation for any losses.

Later in 2018, fishermen around the world also called for more trade deals and protections.

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