Brussels backs France as UK stands by Jersey
Jersey’s fishing fleet is tied up, as fishermen in French ports are obstructing landings by Jersey vessels and ports are refusing to take exports of Jersey shellfish, reports Tim Oliver.
Tensions between Jersey and France intensified as authorities in three French ports – Granville, Carteret and Diélette – formally banned landings by Jersey boats, leaving them with nowhere to sell their catches.
The formal ban was lifted early last week, after being in place for a few days, but French fishermen are still mounting an unofficial campaign to prevent Jersey boats landing in French ports.
The dispute revolves around French fishing rights in Jersey waters, after the Channel island set up a new licensing regime that has angered French fishermen who traditionally fish in Jersey waters (Fishing News, 13 May, ‘Navy patrol boats off Jersey as French threaten blockade’).
France has made a formal complaint to the European Commission that Jersey’s new licensing conditions are not within the terms of the Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) – a claim the Commission is apparently backing (see right). It says it was not given enough notice of the new restrictions, which include days at sea and methods of fishing.
The UK government is backing the Jersey authorities’ right to impose their own licensing regime, and talks with the Commission are underway to try to resolve the situation.
Don Thompson (pictured above), president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, told Fishing News that the French ban on landings was ‘a clear breach of the TCA’, but said its formal lifting would make no difference to the situation facing Jersey fishermen.
“The formal closure has been lifted, but one of our freight boats, Thora, that carries freight and passengers to Granville, was completing loading and sending a manifest off yesterday, but was told by authorities at Granville: ‘We don’t want any Jersey boats.’
“They said: ‘Officially, the port is open, but for civil disorder reasons we don’t want any Jersey boats coming into any ports.’”
Asked if this would apply to fishing boats, he said: “Absolutely.” A shellfish export load worth £70,000-£80,000, ready to go to St Malo, was also denied entry at the last minute.
Don Thompson said: “It sends a very clear message, so we went back to our government and said: ‘Your amnesty for another two months that you’ve given to French vessels to fish freely with no conditions on their licence hasn’t done much good.’
“We’re all suffering. If merchants can’t ship products, then they tell the fleet to stop fishing effectively, because they can’t sit on products for ever.
“So the situation hasn’t been resolved, the French are still flexing their muscles, using their bully tactics and trying to send a message to the UK as well that they’ll stop all exports if they have to, until they get their own way.”
He welcomed that the Jersey authorities were ‘standing their ground’ over the licensing regime, and that the UK government was challenging France’s formal complaint to the Commission that the scheme is in breach of the Brexit TCA.
“It’s genuinely a really serious situation,” said Don Thompson. “We had an open meeting last Saturday of all the fleet, and you could see it in the faces of the guys. We can’t go fishing because we can’t sell our catch – what are we going to do? The problem isn’t going away soon.”
He said the UK government was backing Jersey because ‘there are implications right across the UK if the formal complaint is upheld by the Commission and the licensing regime collapses’.
“It’s a test bed – the UK have held back on licensing boats, particularly between the six and 12, so they’re keen to see this licensing regime succeed. Guys have been working on it day and night since December to see that it is compliant with the TCA, and as fair and equitable as it can be.
“It’s a pretty solid piece of work, but the French can’t get used to the idea they’re not in control any more – they just don’t want to see any changes.”
He rejected French claims that Jersey had not supplied sufficient details of the new licensing conditions early enough, and said that their complaints do not stand up.
Under-12s ‘really difficult’
Don Thompson said that so far, licences had only been granted to over-12m vessels with satellite monitoring (VMS) installed, and these boats were able to supply electronic evidence of their track record of fishing in Jersey waters.
However, he said, the really difficult part of setting up the new licensing regime would come with the under-12m French boats that have no electronic track records, and little catch and landings data. They have been fishing normally under an amnesty during the first four months of this year, which has now been extended to the end of June.
“All the focus has been on the French and how hard done by they are, but the real hardship is in our fleet,” said Don Thompson. “They’ve been able to do what they like and catch as much as they like under the amnesty – they’ve taken 1,500t of scallops out of our waters, and they’re still crying.”
He said Jersey fishermen were putting together a promotion to try to boost local sales, but this ‘might help some boats to stand still – they won’t go ahead’.
In the longer term, there was a plan to put some marketing infrastructure in place to keep the fleet intact.
“The hope is that in five years or so we might be almost completely non-reliant on traditional sales to the EU,” said the Jersey FA president.
“We’ll find other places in the world to sell our catch. We’ve been working since the middle of last year putting that plan together.”
He added that there was solidarity among Jersey fishermen, and between the fishermen and the Jersey government. This had been displayed at a big meeting last Saturday, where fishermen who ‘don’t always get along with each other’, such as trawlers and potters, ‘stood shoulder to shoulder’, which gave hope for the future, he said.
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.