New fishing agreement relaxes French tensions

A TENSE political row between Jersey and France over fishing rights appeared to ease this week after a transitional agreement was reached with the European Commission.

External Relations Minister Ian Gorst. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30107183)
External Relations Minister Ian Gorst. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30107183)

The ‘amnesty’ deal means that all 350 French boats which were able to fish in the Island’s territorial waters before Brexit will be able to do so until the end of April.

To be eligible to fish the waters after that, they will have to prove that they have fished them for at least ten days in any of the past three years.

Brexit meant the end of the Granville Bay Treaty, which governed access to the Island’s waters before the UK left the EU.

Immediately after 1 January, Jersey and France reached an interim agreement which said that Gallic vessels had until the end of April to prove their fishing history and eligibility for a new permanent licence, which would be granted by Jersey.

However, the EU decreed that the interim arrangement was unlawful, stating that it did not comply with the Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement adopted by States Members in December.

Brussels therefore ordered that it be revoked immediately. At that point, 57 French vessels were deemed to have met the criteria and the rest were barred.

The new deal reverts to the initial interim arrangement and has now been approved by the EU.

The situation after the EU’s intervention, which saw hundreds of Norman and Breton boats excluded, sparked anger among French politicians – including the country’s Prime Minister – as well as within fishing communities in areas such as Granville and St Malo where some Jersey fishermen were stopped from landing their catches in retaliation.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex, one of those who became involved in the dispute. Picture: Shutterstock (30113341)

External Relations Minister Ian Gorst has been negotiating with EU Fisheries Minister Virginijus Sinkevičius and this week announced that transitional arrangements – due to last until April – would be formalised and implemented.

As a result, approximately 350 French vessels which were previously entitled to fish in Jersey waters will be able to continue fishing here but will need to obtain a permanent licence before the end of April.

Senator Gorst said he thought it was ‘unlikely’ that tension between Jersey and France would return following the transition period.

‘We can never say never in any of these issues but let us remind ourselves that we have had to compromise.

‘It would appear that the French feel the EU have compromised on their part as well but this agreement, broadly speaking, represents a good basis for both sides to move forward. We are moving forward with good will and a pragmatic approach – hence this amnesty and transition period – and we hope the other parties to this agreement do so as well,’ he said.

‘The other benefit of this four-month window of transition and amnesty is that it allows everybody to get used to what is required in that bureaucracy and to become comfortable with it and to have experience of it.

‘It is unlikely, once that all settles down, that there will be grounds for difficulties at the French border because the new licences will be issued in line with the new agreement and we will have got used to the bureaucracy.

‘For Norman, Breton and Jersey fishermen, this new agreement does provide a more sustainable economic future and I hope that over the course of the medium term they will see that as well.’

Speaking to radio station France Bleu yesterday, Philippe Orveillon, vice-president of the Ille-et-Vilaine fisheries committee in Brittany, described the transitional agreement as ‘good news for everyone’.

He said: ‘Now we have to wait and see what happens. Negotiations will continue for the next few weeks and final licences will be awarded to fishermen who have a genuine economic interest in continuing to fish in these waters.’

Meanwhile, French Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin, Tweeted: 'Perseverance pays off. As I had proposed, the provisional fishing licenses are validated for the French and the Jersey people in the waters of the Bay of Granville. Thanks @VSinkevicius. Thank you @Ian_Gorst.'

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