France is preparing a compensation package for fishermen who have failed to get a licence to work in Jersey and UK waters - something that has been heavily criticised by some in the industry.
In her first public admission that not the country might not get all the licences it wants, Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin announced at a fishing conference in Brittany that a “fleet exit plan” was being drawn up.
She said: “Without prejudging the outcome of negotiations, I asked the Fisheries Department to provide, in consultation with professionals, an estimate of fleet exit plans that I could finance," she told a fishing conference in Brittany.
She added that “an envelope of €40 to €60 million could be put on the table.”
The politician appeared to concede that many fishermen did not have the evidence of past fishing activity needed to meet the terms of the UK-EU trade deal which defines the new post-Brexit regime.
“It is visibility that you need. I will therefore be frank with you, we must prepare for these losses,” she told the conference.
However, Mme. Girardin also took the opportunity to lambast Jersey.
Pictured: The French first protested about the new licensing regime outside the Harbour in May.
“It is obvious that Jersey does not respect the Brexit agreement; worse, it shows an unwillingness to cooperate with us,” she said.
Jersey has granted 116 permanent licences to French fishers and 46 temporary licences to fishers who have until the end of January to produce enough evidence of past activity that meets the terms set out in the UK-EU trade agreement.
The island has refused 55 licence applications from boats which Jersey say will never meet the criteria.
Mme. Girardin’s reference to compensation has been interpreted as a French defeat by some fishers, according to media reports.
“The defeat was predictable [...] It’s a fiasco”, said Pascal Delacour, a fisherman from Granville, TV5 Monde reported. “France has lowered its pants and abandoned its young sailors because it is above all they who do not have licences”.
Olivier Leprêtre, president of the Hauts-de-France regional fisheries committee, told reporters: “The government has disarmed and is lowering the flag, whereas it had promised retaliatory measures.”
After the meeting, the minister reportedly spent an hour after the meeting trying to calm down angry fishermen.
She apparently conceded that her earlier speech “might have given some the impression that France was giving up”, but she assured fishers that she “will continue to fight alongside the fishermen so that no one is left behind”.
While criticising Jersey’s approach, Mme. Girardin said that progress was being made with Guernsey, which is due to announce its licensing regime on 1 December.
The fishing dispute flared up again last month when France threatened retaliatory action at its ports, a move which took Jersey – which was about to announce the issuing of more French licences – by surprise.
However, the immediate threats were withdrawn by French President Emmanuel Macron while talks between the UK, EU and France were ongoing.
These are continuing, with UK Brexit Minister Lord Frost due to meet EU Commission Vice-President Maros Sefčovič again today, although their focus appears to be primarily on the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol.
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