It's time for Jersey to move on from deciding which French fishing boats to give a licence to and start setting conditions for the ones it has approved, according to the Environment Minister.
Deputy John Young said the island was ready to stop looking at ‘numbers’ and start focusing on ‘nature and extent’ - telling those boats what fish they can catch, when and how.
With 125 French boats now providing enough evidence of past activity to be given a licence to fish within three miles of Jersey, the Minister said it was time to move to the next stage of the terms of the UK-EU trade agreement that defines the island's post-Brexit relationship with its closest neighbour.
That stage is to begin to regulate the fishing activity of those 125 successful applicants.
This, he said, was the whole point of the new regime – to create a sustainable fishing industry based on scientific data which applies to all licensed vessels, from Jersey and France.
On Friday, Jersey announced it had issued nine more permanent licences, and that vessels in the 'temporary category' will have until 31 January 2022 to provide evidence to get a permanent licence.
However, the European Commission wants the matter closed by Friday.
EU Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said following a call with External Relations Minister Senator Ian Gorst and UK DEFRA Minister Victoria Prentis this week that the nine additional licences were "good", but added that "more can and should be achieved so we can conclude the current process by 10 Dec."
Spoke with @Ian_Gorst & @VictoriaPrentis.— Virginijus Sinkevičius (@VSinkevicius) December 6, 2021
The recent announcement of 9 additional permanent licenses for Jersey waters is good but more can & should be achieved so we can conclude the current process by 10 Dec.
Our teams continue full steam ahead & we speak again.
"Our teams continue full steam ahead and we speak again," he said.
Welcoming the nine extra licences, European Parliament Fisheries Committee President Pierre Karleskind said: "Full support to the negotiators to obtain more!"
Jersey had initially imposed licence conditions relating to days at sea and the type of fishing gear that could be used when it introduced its regime at the end of April - a move that prompted French fishermen to blockade St. Helier Harbour. However, it agreed to withdraw them after being asked to by the European Commission, which argued that the island's conditions broke the terms of the Brexit deal.
"To recall, under the [UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA)], any new specific conditions to fishing authorisations that limit EU fishing activities in UK waters must comply with the objectives and principles set out in the TCA, which are based on clear scientific rationale. Any such conditions must also be non-discriminatory between UK and EU vessels. Furthermore, any proposed management conditions have to be notified in advance to the other party, giving them sufficient time to assess and react to the proposed measures," a spokesperson said on the day of the protests.
Pictured: French boats protested off Jersey in May when the Island first issued licences, which included 'nature and extent' limits.
Deputy Young told a Scrutiny Panel hearing on Tuesday that it was now time to move the focus from working out who met the criteria – by providing irrefutable evidence of at least 10 days’ fishing activity in Jersey’s territorial waters in either 2017, 2018 or 2019 – to when, when and how licensed boats could fish, the so-called ‘nature and extent’ part of the trade agreement.
Behind the 125 successful French boats are 38 on a temporary list who have until 31 January to provide evidence.
He said: “We have got to the point where our effort, as far as I am concerned, is going to be on putting in place the mechanism to ensure the nature and extent clause, which is in the agreement, is implemented.
“That is the priority for the Marine Resources team. I am anxious to get to the point – and I feel we are at it – where we have made those licensing decisions where we have the evidence.
“The temporary licences expire at the end of January. We are clearly in a position where if there is no more evidence produced by the end of January then there will not be any more fishing, except those 125 boats that have qualified.
“But the door won’t be closed to any boat coming after that if they give us that information.
“We have a scheme of licences but without the means yet to regulate the activity, which is the key point in the agreement. There is no point having a licensing system unless we can do that. That is why I have made it quite plain that now is the time to move on.”
Pictured: Jersey's fisheries vessel Norman Le Brocq has continued to study marine life around the island.
The Deputy said that the Government had created criteria to determine ‘nature and extent’ but he was not willing to share it publicly before negotiations with the EU on it had started.
The meeting heard that scientific work to assess the current populations of marine life was advanced, despite the Marine Resources team having to spend a significant amount of time assessing disparate sources of data, including logbooks and screenshots, to assess if a boat should get a licence.
It also heard that the Jersey Fishermen’s Association intended to send 46 licence applications to the EU to fish in French waters. This is on top of eight already made through the Marine Resources Team.
Deputy Young said each application would be thoroughly checked by his officers before being sent to London and onto Brussels for verification. This was to ensure that the accompanying evidence of past fishing activity in France was sufficient.
So far, the EU has approved one of the original eight Jersey applications. The Environment Minister said last week that, “through the UK, officers have requested that decisions in relation to those applications are expedited as a priority.”
Jersey has up to now faced the brunt of French clamour over the disputed post-Brexit licensing regime, but Guernsey also became a target last week after it announced 43 French boats would be given permission to continue operating in its territorial waters, while 18 trawlers would not.
On Wednesday, the Royal Navy and Royal Marines took part in 'Exercise Joint Blockade' - a drill simulating a blockade of St. Peter Port and other ports in the Channel Islands and how naval forces work on how they might break up a blockade.
Then on Thursday night, a group of around 10 French vessels blocked Alderney fisherman Lewis Main, who was on the Amanda Jane, from landing his catch at Lawton-Collins wharf in Cherbourg, in retaliation.
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