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Europe

French seamen vow to picket Channel Tunnel over EU fish quotas

A French union representing both fisherman and ferry workers has said it will blockade the tunnel between England and France, if its concerns aren't addressed. It's the latest strategy in a two-day-old strike.

A banner reading S.O.S. We are sinking put by a fisherman on his boat at the port of Boulogne

Fishermen have been blocking French ports since Tuesday

Having blockaded the French ports of Calais, Boulogne and Dunkerque, the French union CFDT says it's prepared to go one step further and hinder traffic through the tunnel.

"Out of solidarity with the fishermen, if they reach no deal with the government…, we'll go and block the tunnel on Thursday morning, until there is a deal," CFDT spokesman Eric Verckourtre told AFP news agency.

The union is demanding that the French government reconsider EU fishing quotas, which labor representatives say are forcing fishermen out of work.

In particular, the fishermen want increased quotas on the number of cod and Dover sole that can be legally caught.

The industrial action has already all but shut down ferry services between England and France and left most of the ships stranded in English ports.

A fine kettle of fish

A fisherman on his boat, onto which he attached a crossed flag of the European Union

The blockaders want Paris to override the EU quotas

France's Agriculture and Fishing Minister Michel Barnier has invited union representatives to Paris for crisis talks. But the seamen are sceptical, believing that minister is not open to negotiations on the quotas.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the English Channel, traffic is backed for miles as would-be ferry travellers wait for service to French ports to be resumed. Some people have even been forced to sleep in their cars.

"It's typical," one disgruntled traveller, 62-year-old Margaret Eden, told AFP news agency. "Every time there's a problem, the French try to blockade the ports and stop tourists going to France, but we have no say over the issue."

Ferry operators not amused

English ferry operators, who are losing revenues, are also not amused at all by the French government's inability to settle the quarrel with the fishermen and their allies.

"I cannot remember a blockade quite as bad as this and we are looking at the possibility of seeking compensation from the French authorities," Brian Rees -- a spokesman for P and O Ferry Lines -- told AFP.

In fact, on Wednesday, March 15, British and French shipping companies won a court ruling ordering the 100-strong flotilla blocking Calais and Boulogne ferry terminals to allow cross-Channel services to resume.

But the fishermen's representatives say they will not be deterred.

"We are lifting nothing," fishermen's union head Marc Perrot told AFP as he arrived in Paris for talks with Barnier. " We will stay in place."

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