It'll all come out in the mesh


The French fishermen now throwing a tantrum over fish quotas have no-one to blame but themselves. As they blockade the Channel ports and set fire to bald tractor tyres they remind me of a woman I know who describes her bad-tempered husband as being ‘old s**t and stamp in it’, whenever he goes into one.

When I worked for the Daily Star we carried out an investigation into trawling on both sides of the English Channel. The French had subsidized, fast-moving boats which looked like stink-pots and netted everything in the sea. By comparison our fleet chasing the same finny tribe – hake in the western approaches – were wooden, outdated, inshore boats manned by young men in state housing trying to repay massive marine mortgages and risking their lives in so doing.

What sticks in my mind were the number of fish inspectors the UK then had patrolling the quaysides of British fishing ports and seizing fishing boats with £70,000 fines for landing the wrong kind of fish. Our struggling fishermen were genuinely scared of these chisel-faced officials. Then – this was back in the mid-1990s- the UK had 150 fish inspectors. France had 15. Spain had three.

Shocked at such disparity we then went to Boulogne’s (then the largest fishing port in France) fish market with a retired fish inspector from the UK (no-one still employed in the industry dared take on EU ire). He picked out no less than 17 fish piles laden with undersized creatures from lemon sole to dabs.