Frustrations among the Jersey fleet are exacerbated because the boat was legally entitled to trawl where it was seen operating off the north coast, with local fishermen saying that the way many French boats fish devastates stocks and threatens dolphins.
The relationship between the Channel Islands and French boats has become strained in recent months, with local crews calling for ministers to renegotiate the Granville Bay Treaty. The treaty allows boats from Jersey and France reciprocal access to each other’s waters – but the Island fleet has suffered as a result, with its 75 licensed boats dwarfed by almost 400 French counterparts.
Local fishermen have also been left frustrated by the collapse of the lucrative European export market due to pandemic restrictions.
Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, has called for action on French boats using the high-impact mid-water or ‘pelagic’ method to trawl the area north of Jersey. One of the boats was this week seen trawling near the Dirouilles reef north-east of Jersey, a favoured breeding ground for bream.
As well as having the potential to ‘wipe out’ bream stocks, Mr Thompson said pelagic trawling was likely to kill dolphins and had caused widespread damage to pots and other equipment owned by Jersey fishermen.
While he praised the support for the industry from Environment Minister John Young and his assistant Gregory Guida, Mr Thompson has criticised officers at the Growth, Housing and Environment for failing to take firm and swift action against a practice that remains legal, in spite of grave doubts about its effect on sustainable fishing.
‘Officers have been given firm instruction to draft legislation that will stop this happening, but it seems that they are afraid to tackle the French over this,’ he said.
‘We have some of the most important breeding grounds for bream, stocks are at an all-time low and you can see a French trawler out there right now [on the marine tracker] smashing up thousands of pounds worth of gear belonging to members of our fleet.
‘This type of trawling yields more in one night than our rod-and-line fishermen would catch in a couple of years, and it’s being taken to French markets which the Jersey fleet is unable to access.’
Mr Thompson said he feared it was already too late to prevent a massive impact on the 2020 breeding season, which began with females laying eggs in ‘nests’ beneath the sea bed in March and April, which are then fertilised and subsequently spawn in May. He also said there was anecdotal evidence that dolphins had died in previous years after becoming caught in the nets, which are dragged through the water behind trawlers.
The effect of low stocks, coronavirus restrictions and poor winter weather have had a major impact on the Jersey fleet. Mr Thompson has previously estimated that at least a third of boats are up for sale.
Speaking in the States Assembly earlier this week, Deputy Steve Luce asked the Environment Minister what was being done to support the Island’s fishing industry.
‘The French boats are getting assistance both from their own government and from the EU and they continue to fish here,’ said Deputy Luce.
Deputy Young said he agreed, adding that a scheme for assistance had been put forward but was still in the pipeline, having moved at a frustratingly slow pace.
Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham was also asked about the issue. He said initial draft proposals for financial support would have cost ‘many millions’ of pounds, but added that he was hopeful that a second set of ‘more realistic and affordable’ proposals would be considered by the Council of Ministers very soon.
A large number of people have supported the industry’s calls on social media. The issue was described as ‘a kick in the teeth’ by one commentator, another described the Granville Bay Treaty as ‘a licence to plunder for French boats’, while Mr Thompson said the treaty was ‘broken’.
Islanders have been praised by fishermen by playing their part in supporting the industry by buying fish from a range of pop-up stalls during the coronavirus lockdown.