Jersey fears French fishers blockade amid fresh UK-France row

Jersey’s government has warned of a fresh danger of angry fishers blockading its main port after the British crown dependency rejected a third of French boats seeking to fish in its waters, further inflaming tensions between London and Paris.

The channel island’s minister for external affairs, Ian Gorst, said its government had taken a “pragmatic” approach in issuing 64 full licences and 31 temporary licences to French boats, on top of the 47 vessels already licensed earlier this year.

But a further 75 French boats for whom applications had been received were rejected as “they do not meet the criteria and have either not fished in Jersey waters during the relevant period or have not been able to evidence their activity”, the government said. “These 75 vessels are being given 30 days’ notice of the end of the transitional arrangements, after which they will no longer be able to access Jersey waters.”

Gorst said he was open to any of those boats providing fresh evidence in support of a permit, and he conceded there was a danger of reprisals from fishing communities affected, in particular in Brittany.

He said: “I think we acknowledge that feelings are running high in the fish community in the north of France and I hope that there aren’t any blockades, but we are not naive enough to not recognise that we really do need to work together to alleviate concerns and make progress because that does remain a possibility.”

Gorst said that while some of the applicants may have previously had permits to fish in Jersey’s waters, the EU-UK trade agreement provided rights only to those who could prove that they had actually operated in those waters for at least 11 days over the previous three years.

Loïg Chesnais-Girard, the president of the regional council of Brittany, tweeted: “I ask the European Union to take all possible retaliatory measures to allow such a decision to be reviewed. Together, fishermen, authorities and the European Union, we must unite to bring the United Kingdom back to reason.”

The French minister for maritime affairs, Annick Girardin, had already accused the British government on Wednesday morning of taking her country’s fishers as a political hostage after a separate decision was taken on Tuesday by the UK government to refuse to grant most of their vessels access to its coastal waters.

The UK announced it had approved only 12 out of 47 applications for new licences for small boats to fish in the six- to 12-mile coastal zone.

“It is a new refusal of the British to apply the conditions of the Brexit accord despite all the work undertaken together,” Girardin said. “I have only one watchword: to obtain definitive licences for our fishers as the accord foresees … French fishing must not be taken hostage by the British for political ends.”

The French government said 87 smaller fishing vessels had applied for permits, not 47 as London had said. Paris has privately called on the European Commission to use the tools within the trade and cooperation agreement agreed with the UK last Christmas Eve to force the UK to be more cooperative.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said it would seek full transparency from the UK authorities over their decision. “We will continue to further engage in the interest of our fishermen and women so that further licenses will be provided,” he said.

EU sources offered a sceptical analysis of the developments. One suggested the decisions had been timed with the upcoming Conservative party conference in mind. “This is a game to them,” suggested a source in Brussels.

Gorst said Jersey had sought to coordinate with the UK decision but he denied that the timing had been related to the Tory conference, where a row with France over post-Brexit fishing rights would probably chime well with the party faithful.

In May, Boris Johnson ordered the deployment of two Royal Navy patrol boats to Jersey to protect the islanders from a feared blockade by French fishing vessels, who complained that they were being unfairly cut out of the island’s fishing waters. The French government has accused the island’s authorities of introducing conditions that unfairly hit French fishers. Jersey extended the transition period to open talks with the French authorities and their fishing community before Wednesday’s decision.

Gorst said: “Jersey has maintained a pragmatic, reasonable and evidence-based approach throughout, extending the transitional period on a number of occasions until now, despite not being required by the trade and cooperation agreement to do so. We’re now in a position to ensure those boats which have fished these waters are able to continue doing so, and therefore it is time, next month, for our transitional arrangements to come to a close.

“We thank the UK, EU and authorities in France for their efforts to provide us with the additional data, and I’m keen to pay tribute to the tireless work of our officers to pursue the information, collate it and analyse it.”

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