The French Government has “completely side-lined” the issue of marine conservation - as well as Jersey’s sovereignty over its own waters - in discussions about the ongoing fishing dispute, the Assistant Minister for Environment has said.
Deputy Gregory Guida – who held talks at Victoria Pier with French officials during last month's protest – said Jersey's Government will soon be sending a press release to French media to try and put across the island's side of the story.
His comments were made during a quarterly hearing with the Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel.
Pictured: The dispute sparked protests on 6 May.
St. Brelade’s Constable, Deputy Mike Jackson, had asked for an update on the fishing dispute, which was sparked by the inclusion of restrictions on fishing zones and the number of days they could spend at sea per year, among other conditions, to the fishing licences issued to French fishermen.
Following protests in St. Helier harbour, Jersey’s Government said that, as a gesture of “good faith”, it would give give recently licensed French vessels until 1 July 2021 to provide further evidence of their fishing record to ensure they get the right licence, allowing them to continue to fish in the same way they have done over the past three years.
The Environment Minister Deputy John Young said discussions are still taking place between the EU and the UK on the subject, adding it was clear from public comments that the French had made representations to the European Commission on the issue, which he said were being dealt with by the International Relations team.
He said he was awaiting the results of the discussions and declined to make any public comments in the meantime.
Pictured: The Environment Minister said Jersey had to regulate its waters "to ensure conservation of stocks".
“I don’t think it’s true to say in any way that Jersey hasn’t been reasonable,” he however added. “We need to regulate our waters to ensure conservation of stocks as stocks have suffered. It might be that this position is not accepted by the French or the EU, I would be very hopeful that we have the information to substantiate that and support our need.
“We do need to conserve our waters by regulating fishing efforts in our waters and we just can’t go ‘I don’t believe it’. If we are to look after our fishery and after our very valuable marine environment, we need to do that.”
Deputy Guida said the French had completely “side-lined” the issue of conversation, which he said is an “extremely serious problem”, in their discussions.
“They are talking about access, they want the maximum possible access for their vessels and at no point in their negotiation have they mentioned the problem of conservation and sustainable fishing,” he said.
He added that French authorities have been ignoring Jersey’s sovereignty over its territorial waters.
“They just don’t even accept that they are talking about our territorial waters, they just call if the Bay of Granville instead, so we need to be relatively firm on this,” he said.
“[Jersey’s territorial waters] do not belong to the French, we authorise access because we have a contract, we have signed a contract and we need to follow the terms of this contract, and the ultimate that everybody needs to remember is sustainable fishing, if we authorise 200 French boats to do whatever they want in our waters, we will not have a fishing problem in 2022.”
Pictured: Deputy Gregory Guida held talks at Victoria Pier with French officials during last month protest.
He said that the Government would be highlighting both issues in a press release to the French media to address the way French authorities have been leading the narrative so far, and putting Jersey “in the wrong place”. He said the island should aim to change that to make the conversation about “conservation and relationship."
Deputy Guida went on to say that while the Government has a “good handle” on communicating with French fishermen thanks to the hotline that was established as a result of the protests, it is “quite difficult” to speak to the authorities.
“The French government actively forbade them to talk to us,” he explained. “The French Government basically told their fisheries management ‘You do not talk to Jersey, this is a national level thing’, they are actively ensuring that we do not talk to the local authorities and the local fishermen, even though we have opened up the channel of communication.”
He added that French authorities’ refusal to accept “the concept of nature and extent” is also not helping in the discussions.
“Basically, their notion of nature and extent is, if you fished in the past you must have a licence now, so nature is not terribly important and extent is not terribly important,” he said.
“Our strategy has been very, very simple and I think unfortunately we have no other, we follow the contract to the letter, there is no other strategy open to us.
“Everybody is talking about a negotiation with France. First of all, we are not a party and France is not a party, and the contract has been signed, you do not negotiate the contract after you’ve signed it. So, France and us cannot negotiate something that has already been signed when we are not parties to it. All we are trying to do is establish our understanding of what extent and nature is and fight to enforce it.”
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