The government should provide more information about the penalties that will be imposed on EU fishers who break their new post-Brexit licence conditions, according to a new report.
A panel of backbench politicians have conducted a snap review of draft regulations setting out how EU fishers holding a licence to fish in Jersey territorial waters can replace their vessel.
Developing a satisfactory policy for replacement vessels is seen as a key milestone in repairing Jersey’s relationship with fishermen in Normandy and Brittany, which has been strained since the UK left the EU in January 2020.
Following negotiations with France and the UK, Environment Minister Jonathan Renouf is asking for more flexibility and discretion than the previous pre-Brexit policy – a fisher may, for instance, ask for permission to replace their vessel with something slightly longer, wider, heavier and/or with a more powerful engine.
Pictured: French fishers protested outside the Harbour over the implementation of post-Brexit licence conditions in May 2021. (David Ferguson)
However, after holding hearings last week with Deputy Renouf and Jersey fishermen’s representative Don Thompson, the Environment, Housing and Infrastructure Scrutiny Panel has made a number of recommendations.
These include making sure that Jersey Fisheries Officers can ensure that all vessels are carrying satellite tracking technology, and providing more information about the penalties that will be imposed to fishers who break their licence conditions.
The panel's fourth recommendation says that, should the regulations be passed, Deputy Renouf brings a more detailed ‘framework’ underpinning the policy before the end of June.
Chair Deputy Steve Luce said: "It is evident that the Jersey Fishermen’s Association do not feel they have been afforded the opportunity to have their concerns fully heard by Government which is regretful, particularly given the considerable pressure and uncertainty the industry has been faced with in the last few years.
“While the panel is supportive of the draft regulations and agrees this to be an important first step in implementing extent and nature licensing conditions under the EU-UK trade deal, we would like to see a more detailed policy framework in place to provide greater assurance and safeguards to ease concerns.”
In response, Deputy Renouf said: “I welcome the speed with which the Scrutiny Panel members have gone about their work to enable the Assembly to discuss the proposition again next week.
"My officers and I have had helpful discussions with the Panel to address the concerns raised regarding the implementation of the fisheries provisions of the Trade Co-operation Agreement.
“I note the recommendations made by the Panel. I am happy to accept the first three recommendations, but I cannot accept the fourth which suggests I bring forward a new and much more restrictive replacement vessel policy. This is, in my view, a solution to a problem that does not exist.
“The report concludes that there is a risk that the replacement vessel policy will lead to the ‘unintended consequence’ of an increase in fishing effort, with smaller, less active French fishing boats replaced over time by larger, more powerful vessels.
"This assertion appears to be based on a misinterpretation of the way the system of permits, introduced this week, is implemented.
“Adopting the policy in Recommendation 4 of the panel’s report would be excessively restrictive, risk breaching the terms of the TCA and create numerous problems in managing the French fleet and in our diplomatic relations, all with no material gain in terms of managing fishing effort.
“Jersey is obliged by the TCA to ensure that where a vessel leaves the French fleet it can be replaced in the way that maintains a stable level of fishing activity. That is what the regulations I have proposed (and the accompanying policy) are designed to achieve."
The licence conditions over ‘extent and nature’ – effectively, defining what can be caught, where and when – were sent to French fishermen this week.
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