Many clad in their oilskins and dry-suits, they said they feared for their livelihoods as an increasing number of French boats competed with Jersey vessels for depleting stocks of brown crab and lobster.
Sirens and air horns sounded in the Royal Square, where Environment Minister John Young vowed that action would be taken.
Lobster catches locally have dropped by about 50% in the past five years, according to the head of the Jersey Fisherman’s Association, Don Thompson. And strict new rules on the minimum size for brown crabs were introduced last year to help combat dwindling numbers.
Mr Thompson fears that, post-Brexit, French fisherman who may struggle to access UK waters may turn to Granville Bay and Jersey territorial seas instead. Under the Granville Bay Treaty, Jersey and French fishermen have free access to waters in the bay – subject to permits issued by each jurisdiction.
In an open letter to the Environment Minister, the Jersey Fishermen’s Association warned that the Island was ‘losing its illustrious and historic fishing industry’.
The letter added: ‘Will the minister give us an assurance today that Jersey will not compromise our marine resource but will follow the lead of the United Kingdom and, as with every coastal state on planet earth, demand that foreign fleets fishing in our waters are authorised and controlled at sustainable levels by permits issued by the government of this Island and not the state of France?’
Currently, Mr Thompson says, about 420 French boats are able to access Jersey waters through the treaty – 392 of which have active permits. The fisherman said only ‘67 have economic links to the area’. Jersey has about 75 full-time boats with permits under the treaty and 130 in total.
The Granville Bay consists of about 2,300 sq km of water, about 1,400 sq km of which is classed as Jersey’s territorial waters. The only area strictly reserved for Jersey fisherman is within a three-mile limit of the Island’s coast – an area of 660 sq km.
Mr Thompson fears that, post-Brexit, French vessels struggling to fish in UK waters may look to get permits to fish in Granville Bay, which can be issued by France without the Island’s input.
‘There are boats with permits at the moment which are based 150 miles away,’ he claimed.
The UK’s departure from the EU on 31 January ended the London Fisheries Convention, which allowed French fishermen to fish in their waters. Now the French have to apply for a licence from Guernsey, which has caused tensions between fleets. The Granville Bay Treaty is unaffected by Brexit.
Addressing the crowd, and flanked by several other States Members, Deputy Young said: ‘There is no doubt our fisheries are threatened and sustainability cannot be managed as it is.
‘Politicians and officers have worked with the French but got, frankly, nowhere. There will be a political intervention with France, in Paris, to seek what we want: an agreement where we respect the long-standing rights of smaller numbers of local fisherman that have traditionally shared the waters but excludes a larger number of larger boats and makes sure the licensing of those is controlled by Jersey.’
The JEP understands politicians and officers are due to meet for talks in the next couple of weeks.
Mr Thompson has stressed he does not want to see all French boats expelled from local waters, but control put in Jersey’s hands as to what vessels can fish here. He said many French fleets agree.
Gibby Gordon (31), a crab and lobster fisherman who fishes around the Minquiers reef, which falls under the control of the parish of Grouville, said he feared that an influx of more French vessels to the area could make working there unsustainable.
‘It will only get worse if things don’t change. If Jersey cannot police the permits, it’ll only get worse.’
Father and son Josh and Mike Dearing fish for crab and lobster and hand-dive scallops. Josh said they tried to have as minimal an impact as possible on the seabed but said some French vessels used more obtrusive techniques.
‘A few guys have already gone bust and it could be more,’ he said.
Mike added: ‘I worry for the future – for Josh and people like Gibby.’