The French have formally closed the ports of Carteret, Dielette and Granville to Jersey fishermen - something Jersey is claiming is a breach of the UK-EU Brexit deal.
This afternoon, the Government received a formal notification from La Manche département that commercial operations on departure and arrival at Granville, Barneville-Carteret and Dielette had been suspended and the unloading of fishery products is not authorised for Jersey vessels until further notice.
It formalises the difficulties Jersey boats were already facing - one was stopped from landing its catch of cuttlefish in Carteret last night by local fishermen on the quay.
A Government spokesman said: “We regret this action and don’t believe it is compliant with the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. For that reason, we will refer the notice of this decision immediately to the European Commission."
The official ban does not include freight, nor does it cover ports outside of La Manche, such as Saint Malo.
The move by the French comes a day after fishermen from the three Norman ports, joined by boats from ports from Cherbourg to St Brieuc staged a protest in Jersey against a new licensing regime that the Island introduced at the weekend.
Pictured: Up to 70 vessels swarmed Jersey's harbour yesterday in protest at the new fishing regime.
On Saturday, Jersey took on sole responsibility for the management of its territorial waters following the UK’s departure from the EU at the end of the year.
Assistant Minister Gregory Guida, who led the Jersey delegation, described the talks as “positive and amicable”, adding that the fishermen understood that the dispute had been caused by a miscommunication.
Jersey Fishermen’s Association President Don Thompson said that his members had been denied access for some time, but the move by La Manche had “taken the issue up another step”.
“Of course, I want this resolved as quickly as possible but I am still of the opinion that Jersey capitulating would only make matters worse in the long run, because we have to rebuild stocks that have been depleted by over-fishing.
“We have to be firm and not back down."
Mr Thompson added that the JFA committee had met last night, after one member, Jason Bonhomme, had not been allowed to land his catch of cuttlefish at Carteret.
“He had all the paperwork and there was a merchant waiting but when he tried to lift his catch onto the quay, he was stopped by fishermen there. The committee is unified in our view that, if we are continued to be treated in this way, we may have to retaliate.
“It’s certainly not a threat but French fishermen have hundreds of kilometres of nets and thousands of pots in our waters. If the French continue to be aggressive, then the only way we can retaliate is to start picking up their gear and bringing it back to Jersey.
“I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Today, Sud-Manche Regional Deputy Bertrand Sorre wrote to President Emmanuel Macron to complain of the “restrictive measures unilaterally imposed by the UK and Jersey” which he said puts the activities of up to 340 boats “in immediate danger.”
He said the “anger and worry” among fishermen in the region were “immense” and invited the President to meet them in Granville.
M. Sorre suggested that European Commissioner for Fisheries, French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin and Jersey’s External Relations Minister Senator Ian Gorst hold a meeting together there.
Ouest France reported that the President – currently in Portugal – replied: “As you have seen, we have applied maximum pressure. I am not giving up and I’ll keep you updated.”
Meanwhile, Hervé Morin and Loïg Chesnais-Girard, the President of the Normandy and Brittany Region respectively have written to Virginijus Sinkevičius, the Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, saying the current situation had angered the fishermen that have been fishing in Jersey waters “for centuries”.
They said that the fishermen had provided all documents they were supposed to to establish a record of their boat in Jersey waters through the European Commission, as per the terms of the TCA agreement.
Avec @LoigCG nous demandons à la Commission Européenne et @VSinkevicius d'agir pour faire respecter les accords sur la pêche dans les Iles Anglo-Normandes notamment dans les eaux de #Jersey ! pic.twitter.com/XtAWPz3L1O— Hervé Morin (@Herve_Morin) May 7, 2021
Messrs Morin and Chesnais-Girard said that out the 344 boats that had requested a licence - all of which had previously been able to fish in Jersey waters under the Granville Bay Agreement - only 41 had been granted a licence by Jersey but with additional conditions that were “unexpected and unilaterally decided by Jersey” in breach of the TCA agreement.
“We deeply regret this attitude from Jersey authorities, because it is undermining the outcome of decades of effort for a peaceful cohabitation between locals and users of a common sea, as well as the balance patiently established in the international agreements since 1839,” they wrote.
The pair urged the European Commission to ensure the conditions of the agreement be respected, adding it was “urgent” to call a meeting of the fishing Committee mentioned in the TCA to resolve the situation.
They also called for the creation of a local advisory committee, bringing together fishermen and local authorities, including the Normandy and Brittany Regions, saying it would help re-establish communication between those who are directly involved as well as facilitating decision-making at a higher level.
“The European Union has the responsibility to defend the interests of its territories and of its fishermen,” they conclude their letter, adding that the fishing industry “severely suffered” during the pandemic.
“We count on you to ensure the agreements are fully respected so that all parties can benefit from a fair and non-discriminatory access to the marine resources.”
But UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night stood behind Jersey, saying: "The Trade and Co-operation Agreement brought in changes to fishing arrangements between the UK and the EU. Jersey authorities have a right to regulate fisheries in their waters under this agreement and we support them in exercising those rights."
Despite its allegation, the European Commission urged "calm" among all parties yesterday, and made it clear that "dialogue" should be the first step taken before any other formal action.
If the dispute cannot be resolved, there is a formal arbitration process that would see the UK, representing Jersey, go head-to-head with the EU, fighting France's corner.
“If compliance with the ruling of the arbitration tribunal is not respected then the complaining party can indeed suspend its own obligations in a proportionate way until the other party eventually complies with the ruling," Commission spokesperson Daniel Ferrie said at a press conference yesterday.
When asked if a “proportionate” sanction on Jersey could include stopping its electricity supply – 95% comes from EDF in France – as previously threatened by France's Maritime Minister, he declined to comment.
However, Mr Ferrie noted that sanctions can be applied “across all economic areas”.
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