Jersey Fishermen’s Association president Don Thompson said that the French were threatening Jersey with an ultimatum to capitulate, saying that they would seek to ‘opt out’ of the new agreement post Brexit if the Island refused.
If France did act on its threats, it would have to have its position approved by the EU Commission, something that Mr Thompson said was unlikely if Jersey stuck to the new deal’s terms.
Tensions between Jersey and France have been mounting, with politicians from both sides clashing over the new fishing arrangements. Mr Thompson made the comments after a second Jersey vessel, Blue Minstrel, was prevented from landing its catch on the Continent due to Brexit-related paperwork issues.
It is understood that the crew spent around five hours in Carteret’s harbour attempting to resolve the problem with local fisheries officers but were eventually forced to return to the Island after failing to make any headway.
The issues surfaced about a week after Annick Girardin, the French Minister of the Sea, objected to Jersey’s new UK-EU agreement – which States Members last month voted to adopt, subject to a 90-day cancellation period. The document, called the Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement (TECA) governs Norman and Breton fishermen’s access to Jersey waters as well as how European trade is conducted.
Ms Girardin has announced that she wants to reinstate the Granville Bay Agreement or negotiate a new arrangement. However, were this to happen, Jersey would be excluded from the TECA – a situation which could have massive implications for some sectors of the Island’s economy.
Speaking about the problems facing Jersey fishermen, Mr Thompson said: ‘The issues that we face at the moment are problems with exports and landings. The situation there is really tense, but the government is definitely working with us to try to ease or understand the situation. We are no way near easing the situation yet, but we are close to understanding it.’
He added: ‘There is also the matter of access to foreign vessels into our waters and the three-mile fishing limit that we have ended up with and how that is drawn. Currently we are only limiting 50% of waters that are ours. That is an issue that rolls over onto the issue of sovereignty of our offshore reefs.’
Mr Thompson also said that States Members had been meeting virtually with Ms Girardin in an effort to resolve issues but had been unable to make much progress.
‘The External Relations Minister [Senator Ian Gorst], [Environment Minister] John Young and [Assistant Environment Minister] Gregory Guida were in dialogue with her quite late into the night last Wednesday and I believe those discussions ended on a very negative note. You may have seen that she was in Saint-Quay-Portrieux [in Brittany] just down the road the other day and promised that she would give an ultimatum to Jersey to either acknowledge and reinstate the Granville Bay Agreement or renegotiate within the 90 days,’ he said.
‘That sent absolute shockwaves through politicians in Jersey because if France was able to opt out of the fisheries section of the TECA, then the whole thing goes. It would be a situation where we would be excluded from the [Brexit] deal and we would face trade sanctions, WTO tariffs and that would be a huge deal.’
Mr Thompson added: ‘As much as I represent the fishermen – that is my priority – I can appreciate that is a big deal for Jersey’s government.’
The fisherman explained that even if the French government decided that it wanted to terminate the TECA with Jersey, it would still need to seek the blessing of the European Commission
to do so – something he said he thought was unlikely.
He added that France would need to provide a reason for seeking a renegotiation – something which he thought Jersey would be able to prevent by ensuring that it strictly followed the conditions of the TECA.
‘I met ministers the other night and there is a definite strategy – that is to do everything that Jersey can to abide by the terms of the new TECA, particularly on fisheries, so that we do not give France any reason to go back to the commission and for France to say that this new agreement is not working,’ Mr Thompson said.
‘That is creating great hardship for our fishermen and France is taking the opposite tack and doing everything they can to provoke Jersey – revoking landings of fish and blocking exports for example – but the situation at present is that Jersey is carrying on with no thought whatsoever of opting out within the 90 days and not giving France the opportunity to opt out.’
Last week MP and Brexiteer Jacob Rhys-Mogg told the House of Commons that fish were ‘better and happier’ because they were ‘now British’ after Brexit.
The comments caused outrage among UK fisheries representatives, who have said they feel betrayed by their government over undelivered promises that they would take back control of the country’s waters.
Commenting on the situation in the UK, Mr Thompson said: ‘I can tell you those words were deeply offensive to UK fishermen, who all had much greater hopes on the UK standing firm on fisheries and Brexit negotiations. The UK actually did do that right up to the last minute.