The European Commission has asked for the introduction of licences for French boats fishing in Jersey waters to be delayed beyond the 1 July deadline – but the Environment Minister is remaining tight-lipped on whether this will happen.
Negotiations to avoid another fishing protest have been “constructive”, according to Deputy John Young, who said he is “hopeful” of a resolution before the end of the month.
However, he refused to be drawn on whether it would involve a further extension to allow French boats to provide data on the “nature and extent” of their fishing activities, as required by the UK/EU trade deal agreed at the end of last year.
This is despite the French failing to provide much of the required data since around 70 French boats sailed into St. Aubin’s Bay on 6 May to protest at the issuing of licences permitting them to access Jersey’s territorial waters.
Express understands that the Commission is working to obtain authorisations for a number of smaller French vessels. Data about their activities was transmitted to the UK to be passed onto Jersey earlier this month.
Pictured: Environment Minister Deputy John Young, who has responsibility for fisheries, said negotiations to avoid another fishing protest had been “constructive”.
However, the Commission still believes that some conditions attached to the ‘full’ licences – such as restrictions on certain zones, days at sea and types of vessels - are in breach of the Brexit deal, and thinks that they should be suspended or postponed.
A UK Government spokesperson told Express that they were "in frequent discussion with the Commission regarding licensing, including arrangements for fishing in Crown Dependency waters."
Three weeks after the Brexit deal came into force on 1 January, Jersey granted an amnesty to French vessels until the end of April, which was then extended to the end of June following the protest, as an “act of good will”.
Towards the end of that amnesty, however, French fishermen were accused of "breaking the spirit" of the extension.
“At the moment, there are diplomatic exchanges, which have been constructive,” said Deputy Young, who is the Minister with responsibility for issuing licences under the post-Brexit regime.
“We are trying to progress towards the full implementation of the new agreement, although we are not at that point yet.
“There are key meetings today and tomorrow and I am very hopeful that I can report on progress before the end of June. There are important meetings on the European Union side today too. All things well, I will be giving a statement in the States Assembly on Tuesday.”
Pictured: Around 70 French boats protested in and around the Harbour at the beginning of May, which attracted worldwide media attention.
But Deputy Young admitted that, despite encouraging talks with French fishermen on the day of the protest and Jersey establishing a ‘hotline’ for fishermen to find out what information they needed to provide to get a licence, large holes in the data required still remained.
“We have received some evidence from the European side, but it is not in the form that we want it to be - there are shortcomings in the data,” he said. “However, to my knowledge, the situation on the ground is more settled and shipments are getting into France and beyond.
“There have been a few bureaucratic snags – such as last week when a shipment of frozen whelks was held up in Caen – but they have been resolved.”
Asked if, without this data, an extension was inevitable, Deputy Young said: “At the moment, I am not going to comment on whether there will be another extension. We have stated our position to the UK, and these are being passed along diplomatic channels.
“The aim is to create a sustainable fishery, which is good for both communities. We are keen to avoid escalating the situation, which is why all effort is being put into diplomacy. There are processes that we have to follow to allow us to move towards full implementation.”
Pictured: Crisis talks with French fishers took place over the railings of the Norman Le Brocq vessel last month.
Meanwhile, the UK’s chief Brexit Minister, Lord Frost, told a parliamentary Select Committee this week that it supported Jersey and the other Crown Dependencies in the management of their territorial waters.
“The Crown Dependencies are covered in the [trade] treaty to some extent, where it is a direct interest to them, obviously goods and fisheries, and I think the action that we took in May shows that we are standing by them.
“We support their right to regulate their fishing territories as set out in the treaty and we will continue to do so. We are doing our level best to be as supportive as we possibly can.”
Locally, the Jersey Fishermen’s Association has said that its members have voted “strongly” in favour of the Island setting up a “cooperative-style collection, processing and dispatch hub” to supply the island market.
A JFA spokesperson said: “It is clear from approaches we have received from some key players in the hospitality and retail sector that a move toward bringing together the catch from all of the fleet, right from the smallest rod and line boats to the bigger mobile gear and potting vessels, thus guaranteeing continuity of supply and additionally raising standards of processing, packaging and branding, that we would be in a better position to meet the requirements of our own local markets.”
The JFA added that it hoped that the hub could apply to the UK to act as an organisation to manage fish quota for the local fleet and act to counter the impact of EU and state funding that French fishermen have been able to access.
“We are confident that we can build a strong business case and it would be good to present Jersey politicians with a plan on which to deliver on their promises to support the local fleet,” the association said.
Pictured: The JFA support the creation of a “cooperative-style collection, processing and dispatch hub” to supply the island's restaurants and supermarkets.
They continued: “We firmly believe we can put some buzz back into our industry and reaffirm our rightful status as a significant part of both Jersey's culture and our local economy.
“We anticipate that the hub could broaden out to provide training to assist with new entrants to the industry and diversify into joint government-industry fisheries research projects.”
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