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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La pêche artisanale, grande oubliée des aides

by Frédéric Durand

No Aid for Small-Scale Fishing

Translated Wednesday 11 June 2008, by Isabelle Métral

Jean-Michel Lelay militates in favour of environment-friendly practices and a return to small fishing-ships.

Fishing is what he has lived for, from Saint-Jean-de-Luz where he was born because his parents were “away on sardine boats”, to the coasts of Brittany, where he embarked as seaman at the early age of fourteen: over forty years of his life were spent at sea.

He has seen his trade sink deeper and deeper into the crisis. But the former fisherman is not a man to give up the struggle. “I believe that this trade is worth defending; the resources are getting scarcer to be sure, the marketing must be overhauled, quality and labels re-examined.”

Jean-Michel Lelay has set up a think-tank on small-scale fishing; he advocates the principle of environment-friendly practices. “Solidarity is on the wane today.” And he knows what the word means. He still remembers that stormy night in 1986 when he saved two seamen in the Saint-Guénolé pass whose trawler had keeled over. All fishermen are hoping the institutions will give them a bit of a boost. “What we need is a Grenelle-style [1] round table on fishing. The current situation dissuades young people from staking their life on the trade. The premium paid for scrapping a ship pushes up the market beyond its real value. The young fisherman who enters the trade finds himself deep in debt from the very start and the equipment at his disposal is ill-adapted. It’s time for a big overhaul; if fish stocks are really to be protected, biological pauses should be observed and the EU should accept to contribute to seamen’s wages when they remain on shore.”

80% of the aid provided bypasses small-scale fishermen altogether. “A return to small-scale fishing on small boats should be encouraged: they burn less diesel and do not damage the sea bed so much.” But the European authorities do not seem inclined to take this approach into consideration. Should no solutions be found, Jean-Michel Lelay fears the trade might be purposely encouraged to mutate into “a farming industry”, the advantage of which would be to ensure control of quantity but to the detriment of the environment. “Fish-farming would make it possible to adjust supply since the surplus would go to the sea-farms as feed, but the environmental damage would be enormous.”

Translator’s note:

[1] A “Grenelle” is a (hopefully) date-making, government-sponsored negotiation on a large and complex national issue between all the bodies and associations concerned. The now familiar use of the name goes back to the historic Grenelle negotiations that were held on May 25 and 26, 1968 in the Labour Ministry in the rue de Grenelle in Paris, which were concluded by a series of important advances for labour in several respects (working conditions, wages, shopfloor democracy).

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