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Fishermen strike over EU rules

Regulation poses 'threat' to clam spaghetti and livelihoods

01 June, 18:59
Fishermen strike over EU rules (ANSA) - Rome, June 1 - Italian fishermen were up in arms on Tuesday over new European Union regulations they say threaten their livelihoods and one of Italy's most popular pasta dishes, spaghetti with clams.

Fishermen nationwide went on strike, warning that EU rules aimed at protecting Europe's fish stocks could cut catches by up to 50% and spell an end to the widespread consumption of razor and wedge clams. Fishermen in 13 of Italy's 15 coastal regions grounded boats and staged demonstrations to protest the implementation of Regulation 1967/2006.

The new rules increase the minimum mesh size of drag nets to allow young fish to escape, prohibit fishing within a certain distance of the shoreline and restrict the use of a range of techniques such as drilling and explosives to capture clams. "We'll lose up to 50% of our catch and with all the costs, we won't be able to carry on," warned a statement by Tuscan fishermen, who have said they will continue industrial action for the next 48 hours. The Impresa Pesca fishers union said the government had a duty to take action. "While the regulation may have long-term results, in the short and medium term it will unquestionably penalize Italian fishermen who use drag systems," said Impresa Pesca Director Tonino Giardini. "This is why economic measures are needed in support of Italy's fishing fleet, to compensate the sacrifices that will hit them". Impresa Pesca said dishes using razor clams and wedge clams, known as 'telline', could disappear entirely from restaurants. A senator with the devolutionist Northern League, one of the majority coalition parties, said the rules were the latest example of European interference in Italian traditions.

"We can no longer be held hostage to a Europe of bureaucrats who evidently eat only red meat and couldn't care less about our fish specialties," said Piergiorgio Stiffoni. "The government must be alert at Brussels to avoid decisions on pea quality and cucumber length, or, as in this case, a decision that stops us all enjoying classic dishes such as squid ink spaghetti". Responding to public outcry in recent days, Agriculture Minister Giancarlo Galan has announced a 'crisis unit' is being set up to address the issue.

He has promised a package of requests will be sent to the EU to request exemptions from some of the rules.

The regulation allows derogations from some of the rules if sufficient scientific evidence is presented to justify the request. On Tuesday, Galan said he would also meet with sector representatives on June 9 to hear their concerns and discuss the best way forward. The president of the Lega Pesca Union Ettore Iani, welcomed news of the meeting, describing it as "an important opportunity to relaunch the entire fishing sector". But MEP Guido Milana, the vice-chair of the European Parliament's Fisheries Committee and a member of the opposition Democratic Party, said Galan had ignored attempts to deal with the issue earlier. "It is surprising that he has wrongly declared that no steps were taken before now to avoid this happening," said Milana, recalling that he had personally filed a written question on the issue in mid-March.

And AGCI Agrital, an association representing Italian fishing and farming cooperatives, said action could have been taken long before now. The association's president, Giampaolo Buonfiglio, pointed out the regulation had been pending for seven years, having been the subject of extensive debate for three years before its approval in 2006. France, Buonfiglio recalled, was the only EU country not to vote in favour of it. Buonfiglio described the current media furore as "alarmism", saying there was "zero risk" of clams disappearing from Italian menus. Smaller quantities would probably become more common, he added, but this was no bad thing given that "excessive increases" in recent years had "contributed to the depletion of fish stocks". He said Galan should instead focus on minimizing the inevitable economic impact on fishermen, which he said AGCI Agrital and other sector associations had been unsuccessfully lobbying him about for years.

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