Two week before the end of Jersey’s fishing amnesty, “incorrect political commentary” from France is threatening the chance of a deal, according to the External Relations Minister.
And there are plans for further demonstrations in Normandy, he added, although the frustration of fishermen there appeared to be over why information they have sent about past fishing activity had not reached Jersey, rather with the island itself.
Addressing Scrutiny on Friday, Senator Ian Gorst was responding to comments reportedly made by French Prime Minister Jean Castex last week, who said in a letter to EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen that was “vital that we establish a consultative body similar to the one that was in place under the Granville Bay Agreement to restore serenity in the local exchanges.”
But Senator Gorst said that this would go against the terms of the Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement, agreed by the EU and the UK at the end of last year.
“We are working hard and endeavouring to issue licences that are fully respectful of the trade agreement,” he said.
“Any suggestion that we are doing anything other than that is absolutely incorrect.
Pictured: French boats protested outside the Harbour in May.
“The challenge for us, of course, is the receipt of appropriate information, and we have even gone to the extent of saying that log books - which were required to be completed under the old Bay of Granville Agreement - would help us to issue what might be considered to be an appropriate number of licences.
“But you will be aware that the political commentary from Paris suggested that, on the one hand, there was no political will; and on the other hand, that the TECA has to be absolutely complied with, and we are endeavouring with both of those.
“But then, thirdly, it suggested that there should be a committee mirroring the Bay of Granville Committee, which is not respectful or compliant with the [TECA].
“It is unfortunately true that what is a very technical and detailed matter that is being worked through on a quadrilateral basis [Jersey, UK, EU, France], and through the proper channels of the TECA, is once again the subject of political commentary, which I don’t think bears comparison with the actual piece of work which is ongoing.”
There have been tensions over who can fish in Jersey’s waters for a number of years. Until this year, these were founded on a belief in Jersey that the Bay of Granville Agreement, signed in 2000, increasingly favoured French boats at the expense of Jersey fishermen.
After the signing of the trade deal, which replaced the Bay of Granville Agreement, these tensions have heightened considerably, with Jersey now the licensing authority regulating all commercial fishing activity in its territorial waters.
Pictured: Jersey exports hundreds of tonnes of shellfish, including whelks, into the European Union each year.
Jersey has extended an amnesty - allowing French boats to fish under the previous regime until they can provide details of past fishing activity in order for them to receive a licence - until the end of this month.
This was after a fleet of French fishing boats protested off St. Helier at the end of the last amnesty at the beginning of May.
But the Government has still not yet received enough data from France for it to confidently issue licences to smaller fishing boats which don’t have tracking technology.
Although Senator Gorst has rejected the setting up of a Bay of Granville-style committee, he did reveal that talks have gone on between Jersey and Norman fishermen.
“There has been engagement between ourselves and our colleagues in Normandy, because we need to get to a situation where there are no surprises one way or another,” he said.
“There was a political-level meeting only earlier this week, and there have been other meetings at an officer and technical level.
“I am hopeful that progress can be made but some of the political commentary emanating from Paris would suggest that, perhaps, not all are aligned with wishing to see the technical detailed work reach completion.”
Pictured: French fisheries minister Annick Girardin previously threatened to cut Jersey‘s electricity supply over the dispute.
However, the External Relations Minister added that comment from some Jersey fishermen was also unhelpful.
“Here on-island, we know that some fishermen recognise the importance of good relationships with our French neighbours because of the access to markets issues and the easing of bureaucracy, and others just simply want us to say: ‘If we haven’t received the information, we should stop the amnesty and not issue any licences.’
“That latter position is wholly unrespectful of the fact that tonnes of Jersey and Guernsey shellfish are being exported every week into European markets via the ports in the north of France and we don’t want to do anything to interrupt that and sour those relationships.”
Asked if these bilateral talks were encouraged by the UK and Paris, the Senator replied: “I’m not sure I would use the word ‘encouraged’ with regard to our meetings with Normandy. Certainly on the London side, a better word would be ‘accepted’ or ‘acknowledged’; I’m not sure they’re even that positively received in Paris.”
Further talks are expected to take place on 24 September, when the annual Jersey-Normandy summit is held in the island.
Earlier this month, Environment Minister Deputy John Young said he was considering two 'Plan Bs' in case the issue is not resolved by the end of the month, as he wants to avoid extending the amnesty any longer than necessary.
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