Only 12 of 47 applications granted for under-12s
French officials and politicians have reacted furiously to the UK publication of a list of EU under-12m vessels that will be licensed to fish in the UK six to 12-mile zone, reports Tim Oliver.
Only 12 licences have been issued out of 47 applications made. Angry French politicians and fishermen’s leaders have threatened reprisals and strong retaliatory action against the UK.
French EU affairs minister Clement Beaune (pictured above) told French TV: “We understand and we share the exasperation of our fishermen because it is simply unacceptable not to respect an agreement that has been signed. We will negotiate until the very last moment to renew some of these permits and obtain some more.
“And yes, we have been saying at every level, including the president [Emmanuel Macron] to prime minister Johnson, that we cannot co-operate in confidence on other matters until they abide by the Brexit deal they signed.
“I hope we do not end up in that position, but of course we have said that there are retaliatory measures which are possible according to the Brexit agreement.
“For example, commercial measures on certain British products, or on energy matters. We have several areas in which the British depend more on us. And in this overarching agreement, if they do not respect the part on fishing, we can take measures [against them] together as the European Union, and we will not hesitate to do so.”
France’s readiness to use non-fisheries issues to defend its fishermen was confirmed by Jean Castex, the French prime minister, in a letter to EU president Ursula von der Leyen, urging her to consider using other economic levers to push the UK into a compromise on fisheries, according to the Financial Times.
He warned of French fishermen’s mounting weariness and frustration, and said the UK did not appear to be respecting the spirit or the letter of the TCA agreement or ‘the objectives for which it was signed’.
Meanwhile, fishermen in northwest France threatened to prevent British exports entering France.
Olivier Le Nezet, president of the Brittany fishermen’s committee, said the granting of only 12 under-12m licences out of 47 applications was ‘a declaration of war on the water and on the land’. French fishermen would ensure that ‘not a single British product lands on French soil’. “There will be actions that will go beyond what you can imagine, and I’m not just talking about cutting off electricity to Jersey,” Olivier Le Nezet told the Telegraph. “We will lead this battle against the UK.”
Bertrand Sorre, MP for the Manche department, across the water from Jersey, said the decision to award only 12 licences was ‘an extreme provocation on the part of British officials, and very clearly France won’t accept it, and I want the EU to enter into a much firmer negotiation and use all the levers at its disposal’.
Michel Barnier, the former EU Brexit negotiator, who is running for the French presidency in next year’s elections, said French fishing ‘must not be held hostage’, and that the decision could have significant repercussions for UK-French relations.
“There are too many points of disappointment from our side, and I think it could be difficult,” he said.
Annick Girardin, the French maritime minister, said the licences decision was ‘a new British refusal to apply the conditions of the Brexit accord’, adding: “French fishing must not be held hostage by the British for political ends.” She threatened earlier this year to cut off electricity supplies to Jersey when the licensing row escalated in Jersey waters.
With French elections due next year, fishing is a hugely important issue in northern France, and is likely to lead to President Macron taking a hard line.
DEFRA: ‘Reasonable approach in line with TCA’
DEFRA said that almost 1,700 EU vessels have now been licensed to fish in UK waters. Of these, 117 licences have been issued for EU vessels to fish in the 6-12nm zone, ‘where evidence was available to support a track record over the five-year reference period’.
A UK government spokesperson said the government has issued ‘a large number of licences’ to EU vessels seeking to fish in the UK EEZ (12-200nm zone) and territorial sea (6-12nm zone).
They said: “There were 47 smaller vessels, under 12m, where data was less available and where further supporting evidence was requested to support their application to fish in the 6-12nm zone.
“Having assessed all available evidence, we have now licensed a further 12 under-12m vessels to fish in the six-12nm zone of our territorial sea. The approach we have taken is reasonable and fully in line with the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), which requires the UK to grant access to vessels which fished in the relevant parts of the six-12nm zone in four out of five years between 2012 and 2016.”
Licences have not been issued to 35 smaller vessels which did not have supporting evidence, but the UK says it remains ‘open to further discussion and evidence’ on these vessels.
“We continue to work with the Commission and the French authorities, and will consider any further evidence provided to support the remaining licence applications,” said the spokesperson.
One UK government official said the UK had ‘bent over backwards to be as generous as we could be’.
This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here. (Main image taken from www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/)