French fishermen meet over strike action

French fishermen headed into tense talks on Monday to decide on whether to keep up their strikes and blockades over fuel costs, as a hard-core fringe continued to disrupt port activities.

About 50 fishermen from Brittany, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean were meeting in the key fishing port of Boulogne-sur-mer to discuss possible joint action with fellow European fishermen, they said.

Further meetings were planned in Le Guilvinec, Lorient, La Rochelle and at the Channel ports of St Malo and Granville, where fishermen were either on strike or blocking access.

Fleets in several key Atlantic ports voted at the weekend to head back to sea after the government promised a package of aid to compensate for soaring diesel costs. Fishermen in La Turballe in Brittany were the latest to return to work on Monday.

But a determined fringe have kept up their action, angry at fuel prices but also at European Union fishing quotas.

Several dozen masked fishermen dumped more than seven tonnes of fish into a processed food factory in Brittany overnight on Sunday, gendarmes said, while others emptied fish warehouses or set up local road blocks.

In Boulogne, groups of fishermen were blocking colleagues wishing to return to work from heading out to sea.

The fishermen escalated their protests last week, disrupting cross-Channel traffic, blocking fuel depots and ransacking fish stands at supermarkets as industry leaders negotiated with President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government.

Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier promised to provide emergency aid to help cushion the price of fuel, which has shot up.

Fishermen in Belgium, Spain and Portugal are planning protests later this week to press demands for government aid, saying they too are hard hit by high fuel prices.—Sapa-AFP

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