Thursday, January 25, 2018

Calais Protest Ends Cross Channel Freight as French Fisherman Block Ports

Pulse Fishing Practice a Contentious Environmental Issue
Shipping News Feature
FRANCE – UK – In what many in the UK will view as typical of their Gallic neighbours, the Ports of Calais and Boulogne have today been blocked due to industrial action taken by French fisherman protesting pulse fishing, leading to cross-Channel sailings to be temporarily suspended. Having said that, anyone familiar with the practice is likely to see the point being made. Road Haulage Association (RHA) Chief Executive Richard Burnett, said:

“The knock-on effects of the strike by French fishermen for hauliers will be considerable - on both sides of the Channel. We had no pre-warning of today’s action, so as a result we were unable to warn our members of what was happening. By the time it hit the newswires, truckers were already on their way to the port.

“Our concern is that the ensuing backlog will have turned them into sitting ducks for migrant activity. These people, desperate to reach the UK by whatever means possible, must have thought that all their Christmases had come at once. We fear greatly for the safety of drivers as lives and livelihoods are put under threat.

“We strongly urge any driver caught up in this action to stay safe: keep the doors locked and do not leave the cab.”

The financial implications for hauliers trying to cross the Channel from the UK will also be considerable as the Dover Traffic Assessment Project (TAP), introduced to hold port-bound lorries outside the town on the A20 to prevent queuing in central Dover during busy periods, remains in place until the fishermen disperse and normal port traffic on both sides is restored. Janette Bell, Chief Executive of P&O Ferries said:

“It is utterly unacceptable that a small number of individuals have been allowed to bring to a standstill a port on which thousands of businesses and tourist rely every day. We call on the French authorities to ensure that the blockade is cleared without further delay and that Calais reopens for business. In the meantime, I would like to apologies to every one of our customers and assure them that our dedicated employees will be doing everything they possibly can to help them complete their journeys as soon as possible.”

Whilst the organisations keen to maintain traffic flows across the English Channel are obviously keen to insulate their commercial activities from an unrelated business, environmental campaigners will doubtless take a different view. The European Parliament recently voted in favour of banning commercial pulse fishing, a confusing term as it can refer to a restrictive practice limiting vessels to specific areas of operation and/or during certain periods. Pulse fishing also can mean a method of fishing which uses electrified nets to stun fish. The Parliament actually covered both in their discussions this week.

MEPs adopted new fisheries rules updating and combining more than 30 regulations regarding minimum sizes of fish allowable and tailor-made measures to be adapted to the regional needs of each sea basin. They also tabled an amendment calling for a total ban on the use of electric current for fishing (e.g. to drive fish up out of the seabed and into the net) which was passed by 402 votes to 232, with 40 abstentions.

It is now for the European Commission to debate the issue and decide on how to proceed. The fishermen, already concerned that Brexit will ban them from British waters, claim that pulse, or electro fishing, is depleting fish numbers, even as levels for many species are already reaching critical levels. If the Commission follows the line recently taken on bass fishing, the French fisherman will surely achieve their goal without the need for further protest. Currently UK and Dutch boats use exemptions to continue a practice which is technically already illegal in EU waters.