French fishermen’s leader who organised Channel port blockades this week faces expulsion from British waters

The fisherman leading blockades of UK-bound trucks at Channel ports is one of few left without a licence to fish in British waters, it was revealed on Saturday.

Olivier Leprêtre, who as chairman of the regional fishermen’s committee coordinated stoppages at various ports and the Channel Tunnel on Friday, says he is being denied a licence because applications have to be based on fishing boats themselves rather than the personal experience of fishermen.

Mr Leprêtre is one of a number of applicants who have fallen foul of a requirement for proof of historical fishing based on a vessel’s GPS positions.

Fishermen say they comply with the UK requirement to have fished in waters around Jersey and Guernsey between 2012 and 2016 but have since sold their boats.

“The English assigned my license to my old boat. I had sold it bareboat. As their allocation method involves the hull number, and you change it when you have a new boat, I couldn’t have the licence”, one, Luc Ramet, told French newspaper La Libération. 

Mr Leprêtre is in the same position, it was reported. His vessel, the Manureva, was spotted this week near Calais flying a bed sheet urging the British to “stop your fishy business”.

Mr Leprêtre appeared on French TV on Friday to boast that action aimed at UK-bound cargo was “unanimous” across several northern ports, and that fishermen from different regions had never coordinated action in this way before. He received a telephone call of support from French President Emmanuel Macron, he said.

Friday’s action, which lasted around two hours and was designed to block cargo rather than passengers, caused big queues on the A16 approach road to the Channel Tunnel in France. 

Mr Lepretre, who was unreachable for comment, told followers on Facebook that this was just “a start” and that the fishermen’s movement would become “a lot stronger” when “everyone understands”.

French fishing vessels block the port of Jersey in protest Thursday, May 6, 2021

Credit: Oliver Pinel/AP

French pressure is directed as much towards Brussels as London, because the Brexit agreement covering fish was negotiated by the European Commission. 

The French Government wants the EC to threaten economic retaliation against the UK though it is understood that there is little willingness among other EU nations to start a trade war.

Brussels Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius, who has responsibility for EU fisheries policy, has nevertheless given the UK until December 10 to resolve outstanding applications.

The European Commission admits that almost all permanent licences requested by the European Union, mostly on behalf of French fishermen, have been granted. 

“Since the beginning of 2021, 90 per cent of all permanent licences requested by the EU have been delivered,” said a spokesperson. 

“Yet, we still have an important number of outstanding licence requests, and the process is too slow. We need a clear perspective to end the current climate of uncertainty for our fishers., as well as for the EU and the UK”.
 
A UK government spokesperson said: “The Environment Secretary had a constructive discussion with Commissioner Sinkevičius on Wednesday and technical discussions with the European Commission and French authorities will continue next week. 

"Our approach to fisheries licences is evidence-based and completely in line with the Trade and Cooperation Agreement. In total, we have licensed nearly 1,700 EU vessels to fish in our waters. Where vessels have provided the required evidence we have issued licenses and will continue to do so.”

It is thought that around 150 licence applications are outstanding. The UK has allocated around 960 licences to French fishermen.

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