Jersey fears France could cut off electricity over disputed fishing licences

The Jersey fishing community says it fears for its future if France makes good its threat to cut off electricity and prevent the import of any of their produce after French fishermen lost licences around the Channel Island on Wednesday.

Britain said Tuesday it would grant 12 out of 47 applications for new licences to small boats from the European Union to fish in its waters, sparking howls of protest from French fishermen.

On Wednesday, Jersey – which has separate rules – announced that it would not grant all 169 licences requested by France only months after a French flotilla surrounded St Helier, its main port, amid a row over access to its waters.

The Jersey government said it would issue 64 full licences (on top of 47 already handed out this year) and 31 temporary licences, but reject 75 vessels that "do not meet the criteria and have either not fished in Jersey waters during the relevant period or have not been able to evidence their activity”.

“These 75 vessels are being given 30 days’ notice of the end of the transitional arrangements, after which they will no longer be able to access Jersey waters,” it said.

Jersey’s environment minister, Deputy John Young, said: “By issuing these licences in the days ahead, we are ensuring the fishing effort in our waters is similar to pre-Brexit – those boats with an economic dependance on Jersey waters, who’ve fished here regularly before and have demonstrated it, will receive licences."

French fishermen have threatened to block all UK or Jersey produce from reaching France over lost licences

Credit: PASCAL ROSSIGNOL
/REUTERS

Julien Mouton of the Contentin fishing committee and based in Gouville-sur-Mer, said that while his committee wanted to see the names on the list of the 75 rejected, the number "appears coherent regarding the boats that truly work in these zones". 

"It’s too early to say whether there will be any protest action and 75 appears a bit high but we didn’t expect Jersey to grant licences to boats that didn’t historically work in their waters and couldn’t prove it. You needed to show you had worked for 11 days all between 2017 to 2019."

"That said, it appears to penalise young fishermen who started recently but these probably only account for ten or so rejections," he added.

His reaction was far more measured than those to earlier figures on the Channel Islands and definitive ones unveiled on Tuesday night regarding the UK’s six-to-12 mile zone.

Bertrand Sorre, MP for the Manche departement opposite the Channel Islands, said the number of rejection called for "immediate retaliation"?

Speaking to the Telegraph on Tuesday night, he said: “That could include cutting off electricity although that may be hard as it’s run by a private contract. But regarding other measures at the EU’s disposal, both in the banking and insurance sectors, I want these levers to be pulled immediately. Jersey cannot hope to trade with EU countries and France while condemning to death French fishing."

The European Commission on Wednesday said it had "taken note" of Tuesday’s announcement made by the UK over the 12 out of 47 small vessels granted a licence "at this stage and that further evidence could be provided for the remaining". 

"The Commission welcomes this step, but regrets that it has not been possible to bring this issue now to an end.  We will ask the UK. for full disclosure of their methodology and will continue to further engage in the interest of our fishermen and -women so that further licenses will be provided. "

But some French fishermen have vowed to take the law into their own hands and “wage war” on the UK over the licences.

The threats prompted Chris Le Masurier, 45, skipper of the 27m Normandy Trader that ferries Jersey seafood to the French mainland, to say: "If France backlashes against this and says you’re not landing your catch here anymore, that’s us closed overnight."

He said he was currently having his boat serviced in the Breton port of St Malo and was furious at not being tipped off about the licence announcement by the Jersey government in advance.

"They know I’m in a French port and my boat’s out of the water. My staff are here. We have said if we’re going to be put in a conformational position, let us know for fxxx’s sake and that hasn’t happened."

But he said he thought he’d be ok if it turned ugly. "If there is a blockade, I’d rather be blockaded over here: at least they’ve got good restaurants."

He slammed the omerta over the licences, saying: "Last Friday, we sat at table last Friday and the Jersey government wouldn’t tell us anything, saying it’s all top secret. They didn’t consult or speak with us."

He said he had a lot of sympathy for French fishermen, saying: "At our level, we fish, we work, we trade we socialise with these people. We are friends."

However, he said they would admit that "while some are eligible, others are chancers".

"There is a discrepancy between local fishermen who accept this, and the French government which thinks everyone should get a licence.”

Paris said it wants definitive approval for all 169 licence requests from the Jersey authorities, and 168 requests from Guernsey.

French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin called it "a new British refusal to apply the conditions of the Brexit accord".

Her only remaining priority was to get the licences for French fishermen, "as provided for by the agreement", she added.

"French fishing must not be held hostage by the British for political ends.”

She was due to meet French fishing representatives in Paris on Wednesday afternoon and to stage a press conference.

Ms Girardin, who comes from a family with a history of taking on the English as buccaneers, has threatened to take retaliatory measures “proportionate to the British offer”.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Jersey’s External Relations Minister, Senator Ian Gorst, said: "We sent an extremely detailed dossier via the EU for each individual vessel."

Regarding the 75 not granted licences, he insisted: "Rejection is not the right word. What we have done is given 30 days notice that those 75 vessels we have received no data or very little data and therefore were not able to have any confidence that they had historically fished in our waters.

The month time-frame "allows us to work with our French colleagues in the cases where actually the data we have received is not fulsome or we haven’t interpreted it correctly".

He said Jersey was ready for any militant action from disgruntled French fishermen.

"Our contingency planning people stand ready for that eventually," he told the Telegraph. 

"We recognise that feelings are running high, particularly in light of the UK (six-to-12 mile) announcement. But my message to regional colleagues is that if there is evidence that we’ve not got, let’s work together so that vessels that comply with the terms of the trade agreement are given licences."

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