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From Truthout.org (originally published on LeMonde)
The conflict has become an almost-absurd ritual by virtue of repetition. On one side, Europe - quite correctly concerned to preserve its fishing resources over the long term - sets fishing quotas every year for each species of fish and each Member State. We're not talking about a "Brussels" technocratic caprice, but about a focused negotiation between the ministers concerned, conducted on the basis of scientific opinions, and one that has, for example, led to a 30 percent increase in cod quotas in 2009.
On the other side, fishermen protest their despair, the difficulties of their profession and the harshness of their trade. And they block the ports when, their quotas reached, the government asks them to cease their activity until further notice. That has been the case the last three days in Boulogne, Calais and Dunkirk. And it does them no good to recall Nicolas Sarkozy's January 19, 2008, promise. Quotas? "We must get out of them!" the president of the Republic shouted in Boulogne-sur-Mer during the last crisis.
Between these two, the government navigates the shoals carefully, as did Agriculture and Fisheries Minister (and former European Commissioner) Michel Barnier yesterday. Obligated to enforce the quotas (for cod and sole) he himself negotiated, he could propose to the fishermen only financial compensation and a commitment to put the problem to the European Commission again quickly.
The fishermen's anger is logical. Mr. Barnier's attitude is no less so, especially at a time when the government is - quite properly - assembling a "Sea Summit," one of the issues of which specifically is to battle against the "overfishing" which seriously threatens the world's fish stocks.
Moreover, and the Left would be well-advised not to entangle itself in this contradiction, we cannot demand rigorous "regulation" of the economy and the financial world with one voice, and then reject the regulation that already exists, as is the case for European fishing.
That does not, however, preclude improving the quota system. The avenues are known: several-year quotas that give fishermen more visibility and medium-term guarantees, but also differentiated quotas for industrial fishing and for traditional small-scale fishing (which accounts for barely two percent of the French catch). Mr. Barnier seems in favor of these steps. Brussels, in this instance, will have to demonstrate some finesse and quickly open such a discussion.
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