At the moment, if they were to apply all the rules which exist they would not have any fishing reform… they think that they are an area of activity in good health that the fisherman earns his living normally, that they must pay attention of the other hand to the resources but the present collection of community rules is large enough to avoid making more of them, that they make reforms. Now… they are fine as they are at the moment, so, they do not need reform.
The position of Frederic Charrier, the head of the Union of Sea Fishermen is clear: all is more or less fine in the fishing industry: it must not be touched.
However, interfering in the business of fishermen is exactly what the European Commission is getting ready to do. The Commissioner for Agriculture, Franz Fischler has proposed a reduction of 28,000 direct jobs in this area in Europe in three years. Indirectly many more people are at risk of loosing their jobs. There is plenty to provoke a hard conflict. Frederic Charrier:
Franz Fischler has made a plan which was quite beyond the bounds and quite beyond what can be achieved.
Fischler based his proposals for reform on the observation that the population of fish in the seas around Europe is continuing to drop. That has some nasty implications and no simply at the ecological level: the fishermen are suffering from it too, needing to invest more and more to catch fewer and fewer fish. The states are forced to help them with subsidies.
We tried imposing a system of quotas, but that did not work. It is too difficult to apply, and then that implies that each year we have conflict between the scientists, the fishermen and the countries concerned in the quotas imposed.
So M Fischler has decided to make a clean sweep of this ineffective system, by replacing it by a limitation of the size of the fleets in each country. In principle that would be much easier to manage. And then if we have fewer boats, the fishermen who remain will earn a better living.
From the point of view of Brussels, perhaps there was, there was no other solution more elegant to the crisis. But from the point of view of the ports, this solution was too brutal. The sea fishermen did not have difficulty getting the support of their local members of parliament who are sensitive to the needs of their electorate. The conflict between Brussels and the national governments, the big theme of the political life of our time, has inevitably surfaced again.
What we say is that the fishermen are not asking to be subsidised in order to be moved on to something else. They think that they can live on their skills quite well, and so there is a future in this area of activity.
Our French politicians are really aware of our arguments. They are supporting us in this business and we are supporting them, so it is a step together with the politicians of all political parties, I would say too. So it’s a joint step against the technocrats in Brussels who are doing that without having the sense for human life. So it is a real battle and our present minister for fisheries, M Herve Guemard is fully aware of our concerns and we are totally in phase with M Guemard, who is our minister and we, the professionals.
At another level, the conflict puts the countries of the north in conflict with the countries of the south. Because by limiting the fleet, the Commission is favourising the support of large boats of the industrial type, which are used a lot in the north of Europe. It is a story of being competitive and effective in the north. But in the south we have kept a cottage industry style of fishing and we are hanging on to it.
In effect, the argument of the Commission is essentially that of the fishing industry of the north of Europe which has a tendency to have large boats, these fishermen of the north of Europe, are they doing well? Because they catch a lot of young fish, a thing that we do not do in France and we think that it is more valuable to catch the adult fish rather than the young fish like the people of the north do with their very big boats. What you much know in that the fisherman loves his fish of course because he makes a living from them, from this resource, he lives from them, so he will not do anything reckless to the fish resources.
Effectively we notice that Europe has a tendency to make larger and larger ships, boats of 100 metres, ships that we do not have in France… we have boats of 54 metres that do not fish the coastal fishing grounds and so we are fighting the fact that having a single large ship instead of several little ships because several little ships contribute to local development making a living for families, make a living for ports, things that the big ships will not do.
For M Charrier, the good use of existing rules would suffice for the continuity of the industry.
That is to say that in the tests for quotas, none of the tests are effective on quotas, in the control of fishing zones, none of the controls are effective either; so a good use for the Community’s present regulation would make as regulations for the resources.
And he questions the figures which motivate the proposals of M Fischler:
It is based on scientific opinions which are erroneous, which are not always well established so we, what we are asking is that from now till the end of the year, Franz Fischler draws only on confirmed scientific opinion, that we have several tracks, that we observe carefully what is the state of the fishing stocks, that we have good analyses made.
So what will be the outcome of the debate? Already the fishermen have succeeded in pushing back one decision on reform to the end of the year. Would the Commission dare to impose such an unpopular decision at a time when its legitimacy is more and more challenged. M Charrier is an optimist about the final outcome:
At the moment, the French government is helping us enough, is sufficiently with us so that we do not fear the destruction of our fleet and so we, we have… we are confident that the fleet will remain as it is and that we can live and fish as we have always done.
There is a meeting of the fishing council on the 10th October, there is another in the month of November, and one in the month of December, and so, depending on these different meetings which will take place, in the month of December we will succeed, or we will not succeed, in an agreement with the Commission. They are the ministers who decide, so there is still some time for us to prepare our submissions.
We must set off confidently. We have our guns, we have our ammunition, we have all that we need to demolish the arguments of the Commission.
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