A French fishing vessel leaving Scrabster harbour after unloading. Photo courtesy of John Clark

French fishermen are reportedly angry at what they perceive as cheap fish flooding the market from countries such as Scotland and Ireland.

“Certain retail chains” taking “massive imports” have outraged fishermen according to reports from Brittany.

Olivier le Nezet, president of the Brittany Regional Fisheries Committee is leading the charge against imports from Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, Denmark and Norway which he believes is depriving the French fishers of good prices for their catches.

“The prices held up well at the start of the containment, knowing that a good part of the fleet was at a standstill,” observes le Nezet, who is also the president of Breizhmer (association of actors of fishery products and Brittany aquaculture). “But for the past few days, these massive imports have caused prices to fall, jeopardizing the recovery of the other boats that have been docked since March.”

The Breizhmer president believes that cheap imported fish does not mean cheap fish for the customer, he says “the consumer always pays the same price at the market.”

He also believes that some retailers are playing both sides.

“Some supermarket chains have given in to the old profit demons while they continue to show their support for French producers,” he says.

“The sale of products from other origins, like Ireland, while the French and Breton product is available in quality means the whole situation is not bearable.” 

It is indeed a very sensitive issue across the whole French fishing industry.

“There has been a resumption of imports since last week, especially Scottish fish at unbeatable prices,” said the National Committee for Marine Fisheries and Marine Breeding (CNPMEM).

They are another group that are unhappy with fish imports from their northern European neighbours.

This case is affecting “the gradual recovery that we were putting in place,” added the CNPMEM.

Speaking earlier this week le Nezet claimed “Between 250 and 400 tonnes arrived by truck on certain days last week in Boulogne.

“Monkfish, hake, ling, skate, whiting, and so on, coming from Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Denmark or Ireland … And for us, it’s complicated being behind, while we’re just restarting the machine.” 

He says that the fishers of Brittany recognise that there has alway been imports but that the imports are now driving down the price of locally caught fish, for example they are selling monkfish at € 1.40 per kg which is untenable.

He questioned supermarkets and hypermarkets ethics when it came to the buying and selling of fish.

“A whiting sold for €0.40 per kilo under the Saint Quay-Portrieux auction (Côtes-d’Armor) will be paid €13.00 by the customer of a large brand located a few kilometers from the port.”

A sentiment underlined by Breton fishermen and fishmongers.

Others in the French fishing business outrightly blame fish imports from outside countries for the low prices domestic producers are currently receiving and believe that it will eventually lead to the collapse of industry.

Eric Guygniec, boss of the Armament APAK, in Lorient and whose seven trawlers have all returned to sea, told France 3 “For the past 15 days, we have seen trucks arriving and there are more and more of them coming from all over northern Europe. So, we are not against imports, there have always been but what we would like is that the fishmongers and the supermarkets put imports aside a bit, to enhance local production. This is really the time but what we do here is exactly the opposite. That’s what sets us apart! So some are playing the game, but others are taking advantage of the moment. And that’s really short-term profit.”

The fishing and aquaculture sectors in Brittany say they require the various retailers to “behave responsibly, particularly in terms of the purchase price to producers and traceability because consumers have the right to know the origin of their purchases.” 

They plan to appeal to the Minister of Agriculture and Food as they say, “to put an end to these practices.” 

Over the period of the COVID-19 crisis, French fishing vessels have continued fishing in Irish and Scottish waters whilst landing their catches in fishing ports such as Peterhead & Scrabster in Scotland, and Castletownbere in Ireland.

When the fishing vessel arrives in port there is a lorry from France waiting for them to unload and the catch is taken directly to the French market. 

Many whitefish vessels in Ireland and the UK have been tied-up due the collapse of the Continental fish markets as fishing vessels from France and Spain have continued working round the clock.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Scottish Seafood Association have called for actions to be taken to stop the boycott but the situation looks to be deteriorating.

The skipper of one Scottish fishing vessel who landed in Scrabster yesterday reported how three salesmen gave him the same story that Ling promotions from Scotland are all cancelled and that a lot of retailers have cancelled all Scottish orders.

by Editor

French fishermen angry at cheap imported fish from northern Europe 

by editor time to read: 7 min