DEMONSTRATORS FROM the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) distributed more than 1.5 tonnes of free fish on O'Connell Bridge in Dublin yesterday, as part of a protest to highlight the difficulties facing the fishing industry.

Over 200 fishermen from throughout the country took part in the protest, which coincided with the visit of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Among those present at the protest, which later moved to Government Buildings,were MEP Kathy Sinnott, Sinn Féin TD Arthur Morgan, and Michael O'Sullivan of the Beara Chamber of Commerce, which has Munster's largest fishing fleet.

"The reason we are here is to let Europe and Mr Sarkozy know that fishermen were instrumental in Ireland's No vote to the Lisbon Treaty, and that we will continue to look for a No vote to Lisbon because we feel we have not got a fair deal with regard to our quotas," said Caitlin Hayes, one of the event organisers.

FIF spokesman Ebbie Sheehan said: "Ireland has 23 per cent of the fishing waters in Europe but our quota is only 4 per cent - France has a quota of approximately 42 per cent."

Cara Rawdon, a fisherman of some 30 years from Greencastle in Co Donegal, said strict quotas and increased fuel prices had affected his ability to pay the mortgage for his boat.

Dennis Carbery from Killybegs in Co Donegal said many fishing villages in Ireland had no other industries - thus communities were reliant on fishing to survive.

Alan Bates from Kilmore Quay in Co Wexford said his boat has been tied up for the last eight weeks during which time he has had no income.