Fish in fuel protest
MADRID, May 30 (Reuters) – Spanish fishermen handed out free fish in Madrid on Friday while thousands of fellow seamen blew whistles outside the Fisheries Ministry demanding help to combat soaring fuel costs.
Fishermen will not sail for 10 days and some threatened to block harbours, as their French counterparts have done, unless the government cracked down on foreign imports and subsidised marine fuel, the price of which has quadrupled in five years.
“This situation is unsustainable,” said Elias Eijo, 38, one of four brothers who operate a fishing boat in Galicia, on the Atlantic coast of northwestern Spain.
He said fuel costs and meagre fish prices driven down by imports meant crew-members earned just 600 euros ($929) a month and his brothers had no money to repair their boat.
“Right now we’re earning nothing. How do we live? We don’t, that’s why we are here,” he said pointing to the ministry, shrouded in coloured fumes from protesters’ smoke bombs.
Truck drivers are threatening a strike from June 8 and taxi drivers are also planning protests over fuel.
Economy Minister Pedro Solbes later told journalists at the weekly post-cabinet news conference that the government could not raise subsidies or cut fuel taxes, but did say it was looking for ways to help fishermen.
FREE FOR ALL
Meanwhile, a crowd of mostly elderly men and women scrambled for the fish being handed out from the back of two small trucks.
The handout was designed to show that at current prices, fishermen were practically giving away fish anyway, Javier Garat, secretary-general of fishermen’s union Cepesca told Reuters.
Clutching two glistening hake, Maria Angeles Escribano said she would be more careful to buy Spanish fish from now on, even though prices had doubled to around 10 euros a kg of small hake at her local fishmongers.
“We pay a lot for fish but they (fishermen) are paid so little. It’s dangerous being out at sea,” she said.
By tonnage, Spain has by far the largest fleet in Europe, according to 2006 figures.
Truckers, farmers and fishermen across Europe have launched protests at the climbing cost of oil. U.S. crude climbed back over $127 a barrel on Friday.
On Thursday, French riot police scuffled with fishermen striking against the surging cost of oil, who were joined by hundreds of farmers using tractors to block fuel depots.
Jesus Perez, 52, who owns a swordfish and shark trawler said if the government did nothing he and fellow fishermen would follow the example of French fishermen and block ports.
Others said they would stop imports of foreign fish, which account for 50 percent of Spanish consumption, according to Cepesca.
“From Monday we are going to control the entry of refrigerated containers and everything inside them,” said David Lomba, a 27-year-old fisherman from La Guarda near the Galician town of Pontevedra.
Asked how the fishermen would do that, Lomba said: “By every means possible. They shall not pass.”
The Agriculture Ministry said it would hold a news conference in response to the protest on Friday afternoon.