As D-day approaches for a tense dispute, BREXIT is at the centre of yet another fishing row, with French trawlermen threatening to cut electricity to the Channel Islands.
Jersey and Guernsey are two islands in the English Channel. After months of arguing over access to English Channel waters, ministers are set to announce today how many licences are being awarded to French fishermen in Normandy and Britanny. Both British Crown Dependency governments have yet to approve 169 requests for final authorisations in Jersey and 168 in Guernsey.
Meanwhile, just 12 of the 47 French vessels under 12 metres in length that applied for fishing licences in the 6 to 12-mile zone off the British coast will be granted.
Ministers have also given 105 larger vessel licences, raising the total number of boats to 1,700. It comes as the UK, Jersey, the EU, and French authorities have been negotiating post-Brexit fishing rights in the English Channel for the past few weeks.
An amnesty period giving French vessels unrestricted access to Jersey seas is set to end tomorrow, ahead of the implementation of new rules. French vessels will have to present proof of their experience fishing in Jersey seas starting on Friday, or they will be denied a licence.
Jersey’s administration said that certain French vessels had presented sufficient evidence that they had fished off the island previously.
Many still need to submit further information and will only be awarded a temporary permit until January 31 next year, while a third group will be denied licences and will be forced to halt fishing in UK waters, according to St Helier.
Many boats under 12 metres in length, on the other hand, are expected to be unable to obtain a licence due to the lack of satellite tracking technology available on larger vessels.
According to Jean-Luc Hall, Director General of the National Committee for Maritime Fisheries and Marine Farming, France’s professional fishing agency, officials “spent months” collecting all the necessary documentation, particularly for tiny boats without a satellite tracking system. Mr Hall emphasised, “We provided everything.”
Last night, Olivier Le Nezet, President of the Regional Fisheries Committee of Brittany, indicated that if a proper declaration was not made, French fishermen were prepared to “flex their muscles.” Mr Le Nezet is concerned that the fishing dispute would “end badly,” with chiefs saying that protests will be required “every four to five months.”
Some fisherman were even prepared to “cut the power supply cables” to the Channel Islands on Armanville beach in Normandy, according to fishing bosses.
The enormous 90,000-volt cable that extends over the seabed and feeds electricity to Jersey is anchored on the beach. France has also stated that if it disagrees with the allotment of licences, it is prepared to take “restrictive measures,” which Jersey’s fishermen believe puts their future at risk.
“This is a new refusal by the British to implement the conditions of the Brexit agreement despite all the work undertaken together,” said Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin last night.
“I have only one watchword: obtain definitive licenses for our fishermen as provided for in the agreement. French fishing must not be taken hostage by the British for political ends.”
“We are at the end of our tether, action will be taken in line with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement,” a diplomatic source in Paris said, downplaying the severing of energy connections.
According to Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, if all 169 French vessels are licenced, the local fleet will be vastly outnumbered, with only about 70 of them having previously fished in the area. Mr. Thomspson expressed his disappointment with the outcome, saying: It ”was a chance to rebalance, to see some sort of equilibrium between the size of the Jersey fleet and the number of foreign boats working in our waters.”
In response, Jersey’s External Relations Minister, Ian Gorst, stated that he thought the issuance of temporary licences alongside normal permits would be considered uncontroversial.
“We would hope that it would be,” Mr Gorst said, “but we are not naive.”
“The government has this year issued a large number of licences to EU vessels seeking to fish in our exclusive economic zone (12-200 nautical mile zone) and our territorial sea (6-12 nautical mile zone),” a UK Government spokeswoman noted.
“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 company.