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Europe

French fishermen end English Channel blockade

French fishermen have ended their crippling three-day blockade of cross-channel ports, after union leaders agreed to pursue other means of protest.

Fish trawler being followed by seagulls

Fishermen want President Sarkozy to keep his promise of saving the country's industry

Boats operated by around 500 northern French fishermen blocked access to ports in Calais, Dunkerque and Boulogne on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Many of the fisherman have already exceeded their cod and sole quotas for the first six months of 2009, despite the fact that French cod quotas have been increased by 30 percent compared to last year.

The fishermen in northern France claim their jobs are being threatened by the catch limits. They are pushing for a review of the European Union quotas so they can return to sea.

At a meeting with union officials on Wednesday, French Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier refused to try have cod quotas increased, but did offer an additional four million euros in direct aid. It is not yet known whether the fishermen will accept the offer.

In addition, Barnier said indebted fishing companies would be eligible for loans of up to 50 million euros.

After a union meeting to discuss the government's offer, CFTC union representative Bruno Dachicourt said the fishermen would now focus on protests on land, including at a fish processing plant near Boulogne.

"We are remaining mobilized, the movement will continue, but with other forms of action," he said.

Scientists have said for years that cod has been so badly overfished in EU waters that it is in danger of extinction. The European Commission has ruled out any further increase in quotas in an attempt to stop stocks from being wiped out.

Adult cod swimming

French cod quotas have been boosted by 30 percent compared to last year

Legality of French aid to be examined

The European Commission said it would examine whether the French government's financial offer of aid is legal.

Spokeswoman Nathalie Charbonneau said the commission was waiting to see what the aid would consist of.

"I would just point out that operational aid is not allowed, while there is aid from the European Fisheries Fund, which could be possible. So it has to be seen what type of aid it is," she said.

Ferries up and running again

Cross-Channel ferries have resumed operation, but British ferry operator P&O said it would seek compensation from the French authorities. It claims the blockade cost the company about 1.1 million euros per day.

P&O has sharply criticised the French government over its handling of the blockade, accusing ministers of "rolling over" to the fishermen's demands.

Chris Laming, director of communications for P&O, told BBC radio he feared more strikes were "very likely," and accused France of failing to meet a legal obligation to keep the border open.

"It's a pattern that we've seen repeated before. They simply roll over every time and give in and so that's what generally happens," he said.

"There doesn't seem to be the political will in France to actually step in and resolve these disputes by means of some intervention or force."

The blockade stranded thousands of travelers, many returning from popular Easter holidays in France, and caused a massive backup of trucks in southern England.

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