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Nice, France (AFP) Aug 31, 2012
The fishing villages have become chic resorts and the yachts of the wealthy dominate the waters of the French Riviera, but the 300 odd fishermen who remain on this sunny coast are determined to keep up a tradition that is also their livelihood.
These fiercely independent men in their seven-metre (23-foot) boats bring a touch of authenticity to a region that has largely dedicated itself to tourism and luxury in resorts like Cannes, Nice or Saint-Tropez.
"The other boats get in the way of our work," said one of them, Jose Vivo.
The 40-year-old spoke as he laid out his day's catch of mullet and rockfish for sale on a seafront stand in the town of Cagnes-sur-Mer, which was once home to a community of Italian fishermen.
"There are always seven or eight yachts in the bay. Sometimes they cast their anchors on to our nets and tear them," he said, adding that the pleasure craft were also decimating the local octopuses.
Antoine Saissy, 70, a fish tattooed on his left arm and fishhooks on his right, sat repairing a net on the docks, undeterred by a finger in a bandage after a bite from a baby shark.
He represents the interests of a dozen fishermen living and working on the stretch of coast between the upmarket tourist resorts of Nice and Antibes.
Nice airport encroached into the sea when it was enlarged 30 years ago and that damaged fishing in the area, he said.
"It was as if they had blocked a migration passage for the fish," lamented Saissy.
When he got wind last year of plans for the construction of a new port for cruise ships, he launched a petition to block it and gathered a thousand signatures.
"They were going to block another migration route where mullet pass through every autumn," he said.
The fishermen are also worried about the dwindling numbers of fish in their part of the Mediterranean.
"It's a joke compared to the situation when I was a child," said 66-year-old Jean-Paul Roux, who plies his trade from Villefranche-sur-Mer.
"One day I catch some fish, the next day I catch none," he said, as he showed off his day's take of bream, mullet, grouper, monkfish and hake.
He said that since the start of the year he has noted a drop of around 60 percent in his catch and said that recently he hasn't found any bonitos or mackerel at all.
Could this mean that the end is near for small-scale fishing on the Cote d'Azur, as the French call the coast that stretches from the city of Marseille eastwards to the Italian border?
"The reduction of resources is not so bad on the Cote d'Azur, where a fisherman can take 10 to 15 kilos (22 to 33 pounds) a day," said Henri Pascal, an economist who works for the regional authorities.
He noted however that industrial scale fishing to the west of Marseille, in ports like Sete, was facing far more severe problems because of dwindling fish stocks and poorly adapted equipment.
"But the small fisherman is part of the tourist landscape, he must be protected," said Pascal.
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