France is calling on the EU to allow it to start talking to the Channel Islands directly again, and to start legal action against the UK before Christmas, to help it get the remaining fishing licences it wants.
130 French vessels have been given permanent rights to continue operating in Jersey’s waters, while 33 boats with temporary access will have to stop their activity by 31 January 2022.
Island authorities originally said that vessels would be able to continue providing data to prove their fishing history until January, but the European Commission set a hard deadline to have the question of how many vessels should be able to continue fishing in UK and Jersey waters of midnight on Friday 10 December.
After releasing a final five licences on deadline day, Jersey said it was now ready to consider the question of what conditions should be imposed on each fisher.
But the French Government remains unhappy that around 7% of its requests to Jersey, Guernsey and the UK – 73 licences in total – were not granted.
On Friday, President Emmanuel Macron met fishing business owners, regional fishing committee representatives and politicians at the Elysée alongside Maritime Minister Annick Girardin and European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune.
Rencontre ce matin avec @EmmanuelMacron sur les #licences : nous avons demandé au Président de continuer à se battre pour toutes les demandes, prioritaires et mises de côté, et de faire de l'après 2026 une priorité : les pêcheurs français doivent pouvoir continuer à travailler ! pic.twitter.com/9cr5bChh6O— CNPMEM (@CNPMEM) December 17, 2021
M. Beaune announced after the meeting: “In the coming days we will ask the European Commission to launch litigation, a legal procedure, for the licenses we are entitled to.”
He added that a meeting of the body created to handle Brexit-related issues, the EU-UK Partnership Council, had been requested.
Perhaps more significantly for Jersey, President Emmanuel Macron indicated during the meeting that he will be asking Brussels to delegate responsibility for negotiation with the Channel Islands to France, in place of the Commission.
While Jersey and France previously worked closely together to co-manage the body of water between them under the Bay of Granville Agreement signed in 2000, the UK-EU Brexit deal shredded the agreement and the direct line of communication.
Under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), information for French fishers’ licence applications have to travel from Paris to Brussels then London before landing in Jersey. The island must then communicate its response through the same chain in the opposite direction. As of last week, the island's key contact in the UK would have been Brexit Minister Lord David Frost, but Liz Truss has now taken over his brief after he resigned over "concerns about the [UK government's] current direction of travel."
The communication cycle has been blamed for delays and loss of information, heightening tensions. Dimitri Rogoff, Head of Normandy’s regional fishing committee, who was at last week’s meeting with Macron, previously told Express the system was “ineffective” and called for bilateral discussions to return.
Home Affairs Minister Deputy Gregory Guida proposed a direct line between Jersey and France in the midst of emergency boat-to-boat talks during May’s protests, but the idea was unable to progress as it was not compliant with the TCA.
Video: Assistant Minister Gregory Guida, proposed the idea of a direct line between Jersey and France during emergency talks from the Norman Le Brocq.
Mme. Girardin told Ouest-France on Sunday: “France wants to reopen direct dialogue with… Breton and Norman elected officials, and fishing committees. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will, in the coming days, engage with Jersey and Guernsey authorities.”
Also discussed at the Presidential meeting were stricter checks on British vessels arriving at France’s ports from 1 January, and financial support for the fishers who have lost out.
M. Girardin revealed that France will appoint current Maritime Affairs Administrator Philippe Lambert des Granges as “Mr Brexit Fishing”.
“He will support all of those who have not obtained a licence (there are 73 of them), whether they had their applications refused or their files were not passed to the Commission because they were not admissible. From now until the end of January, his mission will be to make contact with each of the fishers concerned and come up with a bespoke Brexit support plan for each.”
Olivier Le Nezet, head of the Brittany fishing committee, said after the meeting: "[The President] made it very clear: the fight continues, it will end only when we will get the licenses.”
Normandy’s M. Rogoff - who is fighting for six boats operating across the Channel Islands to be granted licences as a priority, and seven other replacement vessels – appeared less optimistic.
“Am I reassured? With Brexit, I’ve always said that we’ve nothing but trouble to come, and it’s not over, it’s going to continue until 2026 (when the question of fishing licences will have to be renegotiated),” he said.
“In any case, we’re going to lose. We’ve spent so much time with little success, and we’re going to come out weaker.”
He was also clear that fishers “want social compensation, not just financial.”
Macron’s “sustainable fishing action plan”, which includes proposals to promote the attractiveness of the profession in higher education, may go some way to satisfying that desire.
According to Mme. Girardin, it is also “about putting science back into fishing with a better knowledge of our fishery resources and the consequences of pollution and global warming.”
This is also an ambition of Jersey, which is why, authorities say, they will be attaching conditions to some licences to avoid overfishing.
However, it was these conditions that provoked French ire when Jersey made its first fishing licensing announcement in May, and led scores of Norman and Breton fishers to storm St. Helier harbour in protests watched by French and UK Naval patrol vessels.
The European Commission then stepped in, stating that the conditions were in breach of the TCA. They said that the conditions must be non-discriminatory and science-based, and that fishers should be notified well in advance about them.
In response, Jersey’s Government decided to split the licensing process: first settling the question of how many French fishers should get a licence, before moving on to conditions for each vessel.
Owner of Cherbourg-based fishing enterprise L’Armement Cherbourg Sophie Leroy claimed France’s Government had confirmed “in concrete terms” during Friday’s Presidential meeting that the technical measures “were not applicable because they should have gone through the Commmission.”
Now that the question of the number of licences is settled, Ministers want to return to setting rules governing how French boats can fish, where and for how long – in a way that does not upset the EU.
Jersey fishers, meanwhile, want the Government to also turn its attention to removing the obstacles they face in landing 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.
Pictured: Jersey fishers urged the Government to take action over what they see as 'discriminatory' practices by France during a recent protest.
However, the catch of French fishers catching exactly the same produce in the same Jersey waters can be landed, according to EU rules.
They also want France to grant all applications by Jersey boats to fish in its waters.
Last week, Jersey’s Environment Minister said the island’s Fisheries team had advanced eight applications and was awaiting the results of seven, with one granted already.
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