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WATCH: Fishers protest as intensive negotiations take place with EU

WATCH: Fishers protest as intensive negotiations take place with EU

Friday 10 December 2021

WATCH: Fishers protest as intensive negotiations take place with EU

Friday 10 December 2021

The long-running fishing dispute could clear its first hurdle tonight if intense talks currently going involving Jersey, the UK, the EU and France find some common sea.

The EU and France have imposed a deadline of midnight this evening to reach an agreement on the number of licences that should be issued by the UK and Jersey to French boats.

No "olive branch" from Jersey

While neither the UK nor Jersey recognise this unilateral deadline, it is understood that both governments have agreed to use it as an opportunity to intensify talks.

The Daily Telegraph reported this week that the UK was prepared to offer "an olive branch" to French skippers demanding their new boats be allowed to fish British waters.

Jersey, however, is understood to be maintaining its position that it is following the terms of the UK-EU trade agreement and will only issue licences when it has the evidence of past fishing to do so.

Unfairness and 'unclean' waters

With the dispute ongoing, Jersey fishermen continue to face obstacles landing their catch in France, with scallop and whelk fishers unable to sell into the European market because their produce is deemed as being caught in ‘unclean’ waters. 

Don Thompson fishing protest.jpeg

Pictured: Jersey Fishermen's Association President Don Thompson (left) addresses the protest.

However, the catch of French fishers catching exactly the same produce in the same Jersey waters can be landed, according to EU rules.

Jersey has also issued 125 permanent licences to French boats while the EU has issued one licence to a Jersey boat. Fishermen are unhappy at the disparity.

For these reasons, they took part in a protest march from the Steam Clock to the Royal Square today.

Jersey Fishermen’s Association President Don Thompson said: “We have lost 25% of our fleet while trying to keep the French appeased and we cannot wait any longer. 

“We are in a situation where we need to move on to the next steps, which is to stop our Fisheries officers spending days trying to fathom poor quality data from the EU and start applying conditions to the boats that are licensed.

“Since 1 January and the inception of the trade agreement, Jersey's Government has allowed fishing in our waters to continue and have issued 163 permanent and temporary licences to French fishermen."


Pictured: One of the protest signs warned that Jersey fishers' next demonstration may be done "the French way", referring to May's blockade of St. Helier Harbour.

He continued: “The EU Commission, however, has declassified our waters without justification and France has used this and other means to deny or hinder access for Jersey vessels to French ports and markets. 

“The agreement cannot work if both sides do not cooperate. The JFA demands that the government notifies the EU Commission that access to our waters will be denied to French vessels when France is in breach of the trade agreement.”

Mr Thompson added that the JFA also demanded a level playing field on water classification and parity of licensing between the EU and Jersey. 

He said the association also wanted a review to be undertaken “to access to what extent the entire process may have been subject to fraud”. This was after hearing an allegation some evidence submitted by France via the EU may have been doctored.

A symbol of sacrifice

Mr Thompson said that the rally - which one sign said would be the last "peaceful one" - had been good natured, but his members felt aggrieved. 

As a symbol of past sacrifice for French freedom, the fishers were accompanied by a statue of ‘Rubens’, a figure based on sculptor Phill Channing’s great-uncle.

Rubens fishing protest.jpeg

Pictured: 'Rubens' leads the protest down Conway Street from Liberation Square to the Royal Square.

Rubens was a soldier on-board the ill-fated RMS Lancastria, which was torpedoed by a U-boat off St. Nazaire in June 1940. 

The requisitioned liner was carrying troops being evacuated from France two weeks after Dunkirk, and up to 5,800 people died – representing the largest single-ship loss of life in British maritime history. 

"Mixed up" data

Former Environment Minister and Progress Party member Deputy Steve Luce, Reform Jersey leader Senator Sam Mézec and Constable Mike Jackson delivered speeches during Friday's Royal Square demonstration.

Also speaking at the protest was Environment Minister Deputy John Young, who said his message to the fishers was “hang on in there”.

Speaking to Express afterwards, he said: “We do not recognise this imposed deadline and we need to move on from the numbers and starting applying conditions to those we have issued.

“In recent weeks we have received more documents and even on Thursday at 16:00, we received another batch of information from the EU, which was all mixed up and of poor quality."

John Young fish protest.jpeg

Pictured: Environment Minister John Young speaks to the gathering in the Royal Square.

He added: “We maintain our position that we will give licences when we get quality evidence which meets the terms of the agreement.

“The French have said that if we don’t provide the licences they want today they will invoke procedures within the agreement and start legal action. 

“They appear to want us to give them licences that do not qualify under the terms of the TECA [the trade agreement] but we are not prepared to go down that route." 

He added that Ministers would like to get on with setting rules for French vessels, rather than simply deciding who should be able to fish.

Video: Environment Minister John Young speaks to the protesting fishermen.

“Our proposals on that are well advanced and we are ready to present them to the EU.

“Our position is clear: we have issued all the licences we can on the evidence available and we expect the EU to issue licences to the Jersey boats that have applied to fish in French waters.”

The Deputy added that there were other demands.

Calls for an end to "unreasonable" bureaucracy

“We also want to have the border inspection post opened in Granville, an end to unofficial and unreasonable bureaucracy which the French have imposed and an end to the disparity in classification of our waters as well as their agreement on the number of licences," he said.

“I understand that of the 38 licences on our temporary ‘orange’ list, there’s a possibility that the EU want 22 but where is their evidence of past activity?

“The only way we can successfully face any legal challenge is sticking to the rules and applying the terms of the TECA accurately. The EU has been interrogating our methodology daily and has not been able to find fault with it.

“If the French do resort to the courts, we need our records and processes to stand up to scrutiny. And the only way we can do that is by sticking by the rules. 

“That means that we cannot cancel licences or ban licensed boats from our waters; we need to continue to look at the evidence before us.”

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