A sign of worse to come? The 25th of January this year, saw French fishermen blockading the Port of Calais once more, halting movement at France’s busiest passenger port and this crucial entry point for UK imports and exports with Europe.
It was a reminder of these frontier debacles of the recent past when this kind of blackmail seemed to occur with exasperating frequency. When Calais had become an obvious and easy choke point to embarrass and put pressure on the French government. They often seemed unable and unwilling to take on the perpetrators, and who may have had nothing to do with Calais or its traffic. And this time too, the fishermen had little or no actual involvement with Calais and came from Boulogne and other fishing ports.
They were protesting, they claimed, primarily at the loss of catch they say is a result of the growth of electric pulse fishing. Which is said by opponents, to be like putting a ‘taser’ in the water with electrodes emitting electric shock waves. These stun the fish which then float to the surface to be scooped up in giant nets. These French fishermen say pulse fishing is depleting numbers. That is not a universally held view however. For example, the Netherlands authorities have issued permits to ‘pulse’ trawlers having the view the new technique reduces wasteful ‘by-catch’ and avoids damaging the seabed with heavy drag nets.
The blockade in the way of such things, certainly achieved one objective and that was to have their grievance heard loud and clear on both sides of the Channel. The ad hoc fish flotilla blocked the narrow ferry channel into Calais for the best part of the day, ending the protest at 1600 GMT, though it would take hours for the backlog to clear and truckers and travellers lost many hours both ashore, in queues, and aboard ships offshore that were unable to dock.
Some French fishermen also took the opportunity to complain that when Britain leaves the EU, it may bring an end to French access to fish stocks in British waters. Meanwhile, the ferry operators are left to complain rather ineffectually:
“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 tourists rely every day,” so said Janette Bell, the chief executive of P&O Ferries, hammering home the reality that over 2mn trucks, thousands of coaches and 10 million passengers pass through Calais every year, as also stated by Jean- Marc Puissesseau, Calais Port’s general manager, as he warned of the implications of the UK leaving the EU.
There must be a concern that the holding up of trade between full partners in the EU as a blackmailing tool, may become even worse once the complete separation of the UK from the European Community becomes a fact. And noone in any UK government or political party has a full grasp on how the new border arrangements will work and how difficult customs and border controls could become at the ports, with potentially massive implications to the effi cient movement of goods and passengers. Easy movement that is now, after so many years, looked upon as the norm, (of course always subject to the willingness of French fishermen to cooperate).