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French Fishing Industry Angry Over EU Restrictions


Tuna fishermen in France are up in arms against a European Union decision to cut short their bluefin tuna season by two weeks - arguably depriving them of thousands of dollars in income. The decision was made because France had surpassed its tuna fishing quota this year - but, as Lisa Bryant reports from the French port city of Marseille, it also reflects what may be a grim future for Europe's fishing industry.

David Romeo would normally have wrapped up his short season fishing bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean by now - about $20,000 richer. Instead, Romeo is idling on the dock of Marseille's commercial fishing port, incensed by a European Union directive ending France's bluefin season two weeks earlier than scheduled.

Romeo says area fishermen have hardly fished at all during their season, which begins in May. Bad weather kept them on land. Then the EU ordered the season to end in mid-June rather than the end of the month because France had already fished its yearly quota for bluefin tuna.

Now, Romeo and other fishermen are demanding compensation.

At an angry meeting on the docks last week, the fishermen took their boats to sea last week in protest - calling on authorities to compensate them for their lost income. Mourad Kahoul, president of the French tuna fishermen's union STM blasted the European Union for shortening the fishing dates - and the French government for allegedly cowing to Brussels.

Kahoul said there was no problem of lack of resources - there were plenty of bluefin tuna in the ocean. He said it was unfair that French fishermen had to stop fishing, while Spanish tuna fishermen could continue.

But environmentalists like Stephan Beaucher, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace France, argue that bluefin tuna is indeed a threatened species - and that the EU quotas to limit catches are in fact far too generous.

"The east Atlantic bluefin tuna stock has been caught at a level of 80 percent of adult fish over the last 12 years," he said. "This means that 80 percent of the fish that can reproduce have been caught."

The bluefin tuna come from the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean to spawn at around May. They return to the Atlantic around July. This period is peak fishing season for Romeo and other Mediterranean fishermen.

Some fishermen interviewed on Marseille's docks argued they have seen no drop in tuna during their years at sea.

But others, like Michel Martinez, who has been in the profession for 30 years, say bluefin tuna are disappearing from the Mediterranean. He says he sees fewer and fewer and fewer tuna - and especially fewer big fish.

Fifty-year-old Patrick Mameaux agrees. Like Martinez, he has been fishing for years.

Neither of his two children are fishermen. He did not want them to take up a profession that is in so much trouble.

Bluefin tuna is not the only fish threatened in Europe's oceans - and in oceans around the world. A 2005 report by the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization found that many fish species were either overfished or nearing their limits. In Europe, Beaucher of Greenpeace says swordfish, cod and anchovy are also overfished in Europe.

Roughly 70 percent of bluefin tuna caught in the Mediterranean is consumed in Japan. But Europeans overall are the world's largest fish eaters - and their appetite is growing.

"In France and in the European countries, we have consumption of seafood that increases two percent a year," says environmentalist Stephan Beaucher. "And more globally, since the '90s, we are fishing 90-92 million metric tons per year.

Part of the answer Beaucher says lies in establishing strict fishing quotas that are sustainable and applicable internationally - along with cracking down on illegal fishing. There is also an idea of establishing "quality" labels for fish caught in sustainable ways. But environmentalists say Europeans and others must also stop eating so much fish.

But that may not be so easy. At the morning fish market in Marseille's old port, local resident Mimoun Taadou is buying swordfish - a threatened species, which sells here for a hefty $38 a kilo.

Taadou agrees that buying fish these days is expensive - and that fish are disappearing from the oceans. But, he says, Mediterranean people like himself need to eat fish - at least two times a week.

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