The External Relations Minister has confirmed that the island has "contingency plans" in place in case of an angry reaction from French fishers, after it was announced that up to 95 small boats could be given a licence to fish in the island's territorial waters – far fewer than the number requested by the French government.
The final number is, however, significantly more than the 12 licences issued by the UK to EU boats yesterday.
After receiving a last-minute flurry of data from the French last week, and following a summit between Channel Island and Norman leaders last Friday, Jersey has said that it will issue 64 full licences and 31 temporary licences to French boats – the vast majority of them vessels working out of nearby Norman ports. Some of the licence conditions will be suspended for now, however.
75 boats have been deemed not to meet the criteria, nor come anywhere close to it, and these boats have been given 30 days’ notice. After this, they will not be allowed to fish around Jersey and its reefs.
The 64 boats will receive a licence now, which will become active in 30 days’ time, when the current transitional arrangements come to an end.
The Government says that the 31 temporary licences cover boats which have not provided quite enough information, under the terms of the trade agreement reached between the UK and EU last December.
They will last until the end of January, giving four months for those vessels to provide the extra data required.
These 95 licences are on top of the 47 issued to larger boats earlier this year, which could supply data from their onboard tracking software.
This means that up to 142 French boats will be licensed to fish to within three miles of Jersey.
Pictured: Norman fishermen held a protest on a beach near Pirou earlier this month, where a submarine electricity cable connects Jersey with France.
Last week, French Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin requested that Jersey issue 169 small boat licences – far more than the 95 that Jersey said it could potentially issue at this stage.
France’s reaction to Jersey’s news today is not yet known, however its response to the UK’s licence announcement yesterday has been highly critical.
After going through a similar review of information received by the EU, the UK has issued 12 licences – out of 47 applications – to boats under 12m in length. The licensed vessels will be able to fish up to six miles off the UK coast.
Mme Girardin is reported as saying that the news was “a new British refusal to apply the conditions of the Brexit accord”.
“French fishing must not be held hostage by the British for political ends,” she added.
Whether the UK’s announcement will deflect France’s ire away from Jersey remains to be seen.
For Jersey’s part, Ministers hope that the island's “pragmatic, reasonable and evidence-based approach” will avoid a repetition of May’s high-profile protest by French fishermen in St. Aubin’s Bay.
Pictured: Jersey and Norman politicians met last week, with fishing dominating the agenda.
Environment Minister Deputy John Young said: “We have, now, three categories of applicant: those who clearly have enough evidence for permits, those who still need to submit a little more information, and those who do not qualify due to not having provided evidence of fishing in Jersey waters during the relevant period.
“I have been pleased to see the progress made in recent weeks, with more information coming through, and I must thank the officers for their tireless work in reviewing the data.
“We must protect our waters from overfishing, ensuring activity is sustainable and in line with the levels of fishing effort we saw before Brexit. Some vessels that had the former Granville Bay permits do not qualify for licences under the UK-EU trade agreement because they did not actually fish here.”
Asked whether the island was prepared for a negative French reaction, including more demonstrations, External Relations Minister Senator Ian Gorst said: “We have contingency plans and we have a prepared position.
"We must remind ourselves that, in compliance with the trade agreement, we have given a 30-day notice period so those who will be given licences have been given 30-day notice period, as have those who we don’t have the data for.
“We are not creating a cliff edge - we are creating an opportunity to continue to work together. Even though feelings are running high, we have expressed the view to our French colleagues that there remains time for us to continue to work together, for those boats that have that historic track record.
“For us, it has always been a matter of complying with the terms of the agreement and being able to show that historic effort. For those boats that fished in our waters through those years, let’s work together on proving the data.
“The 30 days allows us to continue to work with French colleagues on a case-by-case basis.
“We will continue to have an open door to further data and evidence of fishing activity, including for vessels which have already been considered, and we look forward to working collaboratively to resolve the remaining complex issues.”
Addressing the issue that the majority of licences issued covers Norman and not Breton boats, Senator Gorst said: “You will see from the numbers that that our very close relationship with Normandy has meant that, at this stage, there is a greater number of licences as a proportion being issued.
“We want to continue working with our Breton colleagues to make sure that is no mis-categorisation.”
The Minister is to due hold a meeting with the President of Brittany today.
Pictured: The black line marks the extent of Jersey's territorial waters, which Jersey now has licensing responsibility for.
Today’s announcement has not been well received by the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, which has long campaigned for the Government to take a tougher stance with the French.
“The Jersey fleet is deeply disappointed,” said JFA President Don Thompson. “Today’s news could not have been worse.
“We know exactly how many French boats have relied on our waters and that’s around 60-70 vessels.
“So, when you add the 64 to the 31, whom we expect will all be given licences at the end of January, together with the 47 larger boats who already have licences, that’s 142 licences – which is double the number of boats that regularly fish here.
“What might have softened the blow would have been restrictions on gear and number of days at sea, but those are not included. It is a very sad day.”
The European Commission previously expressed concern about conditions attached to licences, suggesting they were not compatible with the Brexit deal.
The licence conditions that cover ‘days at sea’ and ‘gear used’ – which would control what licensed boats can catch – will remain suspended to allow further discussion between Jersey, the UK, EU and France on their interpretation of the trade agreement.
The issue of replacement vessels – another sticking point – is also yet to be resolved.
Deputy Young said: “There are a small number of these applicant vessels which require further consideration, and they will be allowed to continue operating in our waters for now while we continue discussions about how ‘replacement vessels’ should be managed.”
Jersey took on responsibility for issuing licences in its territorial waters on 1 January, when the UK officially left the EU. The new regime replaced a shared-management arrangement that had been enshrined in the Bay of Granville Agreement, which was signed in 2000 and came into force four years later.
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