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France's stance on sushi fishery causes E.U. friction

Opposition to a recent Mediterranean tuna ban led to a standoff on the eve of its leadership position in the EU.

Running afoul: In January, French fishermen in Sète protested an EU tuna ban. Fishery experts say the ban is needed to prevent extinction.


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The 36 French bluefin tuna boats in the Mediterranean steaming back to the southern port of Sète are filled with fishermen fuming about high fuel costs.

Now, the fishermen are steaming about the loss of two lucrative fishing weeks in the midst of the Mediterranean tuna-fishing season.

On June 16, all EU-flagged tuna boats were recalled by European Union fishing czar Joe Borg, who accused French and Italian fleets of falsifying their catches. Mr. Borg, who used measures designed for cases of protected species to stop the catch, saying the yearly tuna quota had already been reached.

The French fishing minister, Michel Barnier, expressed shock and outrage over the recall.

The tuna standoff comes just days before France's six-month EU presidency starting July 1, and only weeks after the Irish voted "no" on a key EU unity treaty. Mr. Barnier brought France's first major challenge to the EU Commission.

France lost the challenge, but Barnier insists that French boats only took 52 percent of their allowable catch.

"The commission hasn't given to France proof of its statistics," a spokesman in Barnier's office said on Thursday.

Barnier himself described a "problem of transparency and trust and of working together" with Brussels.

Tuna stocks are widely regarded as declining in the Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans – owing both to a global sushi phenomenon that favors the prized fish and to purse-seine industrial fishing methods, where huge fixed-net trawlers sweep the oceans in a manner sometimes compared to a vacuum cleaner.

This year, prices for the fish rose from 7 to 9 €/kilo, up from 5 to 6 €/kilo in 2007.


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