French Fishermen Welcome Regulation by EC

BERNARD DUBOIS points with an embarrassed smile at the fishing trawler rusting and peeling into advanced decay in the fishing port just opposite his office.The boat, he says, symbolizes the direction he fears the local community of 1,200 fishermen may be heading. "When I came into this business in 1970, you could make three times what others made staying on land," says Mr. Dubois, a defender of local fishing industry interests. "Now you can't even eke out the minimum wage," he adds. "If the fish don't come back, our boats, too, might as well look like this one." For Dubois and fellow fisherman Felix Vigoureux, the succinct lamentation is the same: There are no more fish. With 57 years of fishing between them in the once-teeming coastal waters of the English Channel, the two men have witnessed the recent, rapid decline of European fish stocks. "Not too many years ago we always came in with 20 to 25 tons of fish" from a typical outing, says Mr. Vigoureux. Now the boats stay out longer, often go farther, "and seven to eight tons is the average. If anybody ever hits 10 [tons] it's really something." They give the specific example of monkfish, a favorite in many French restaurants. "Normally the catch was about 620 tons annually for St. Malo, but last year that fell to 400 tons, and this year we'll be lucky to hit 200," says Vigoureux. "It's a disappearing species." Both Dubois, whose company owns seven trawlers, and Vigoureux, who has five, say the industry's solution must come from Brussels, the center of European Community decisionmaking. Only the EC, they say, can enforce the same regulations on all of the Community's fishermen. But in their eyes, it is the "other" fishermen - mostly those in Britain - who are to blame for the decline in the fish stocks. The French fishermen say the British have in recent years taken to using bottom-dragging nets that "leave nothing behind." EC officials in Brussels, who hope to impose limits on net sizes soon, say the French are just as guilty of using huge drift nets in the Bay of Biscay between Spain and France. In line with efforts in Brussels to promote species conservation, the French fishing ministry developed a compensation plan designed to reduce the country's fishing fleet by about 10 percent this year. Dubois and Vigoureux say they know of no St. Malo fishing-boat owner who considered the plan when it was first announced last spring. But after a disastrous fishing season, they say, that has changed. None of the two men's boats qualify for the plan, however, since participating boats must be more than 10 years old. At the St. Malo office of the Maritime Affairs Administration, director Michel Tricot says about 25 applications for the decommissioning program have been received, mostly from older fishermen. "The question now will be whether the boats we're helping to pull out are among the more active, and whether this effort will actually lighten the pressure on the fish stocks," he says. "We have no guarantees." Beyond that, he adds, "If France carries out its fleet-reduction plan but the Spanish, for example, do nothing, it will be the same as if we had done nothing at all." Dubois and Vigoureux are not optimistic that meaningful regulations will ever be enforced on Europe's fishermen to make their profession an attractive one again. "My own son works on a trawler, and he'd like to stay on," says Dubois. "But he says if things haven't improved by the time he does his military service, he's out of the business."

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