Fishing: 'We need more backing'

MINISTERS have been accused of failing to engage with their French counterparts and protect the Island’s fishing industry following a high-profile demonstration at the Harbour.

Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30394551)
Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30394551)

Michael Michielli, who this week had his 3½-tonne catch seized by officials in Granville, says that States Members need to step up and prevent him and his fellow fishermen from being intimidated by French officials.

The skipper is one of several within the industry who say they have experienced great difficulties and increased bureaucracy when landing catches in Europe since 1 January, when the Island began to be treated as a ‘third country’ by the EU.

Industry representatives claimed that because of the designation of the Island’s seas as ‘class B’ waters by the EU in recent weeks, scallop and whelk fishermen are now no longer allowed to land their catch directly into France. The shellfish would instead have to be purified first in Jersey and then imported via an inspection post at St Malo. However, there are limited facilities in the Island to purify the catch.

They also claimed Norman and Breton fishermen who fish in the same waters can, however, land their catch in France.

However, the government has since moved to clarify that Jersey's waters have not been designated as 'class B'.

The protest, during which Jersey’s fleet massed at the Harbour entrance, was designed to encourage ministers to better engage with the Island’s fishermen and French authorities.

Describing the issues he faced this week, Mr Michielli said that after initially being approved for landing, an official boarded his boat and told him his catch would be seized, as he had not declared its value. However, he added that this would be impossible to give, as the price of fish fluctuated and he would not know its sale price until it went to auction the next day.

Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30394585)

‘What we would like is a bit more backing for our industry. We cannot go and speak to the minister in Normandy – that is his [the External Relations Minister’s] job. Senator Gorst says that he has been chatting to his counterparts to keep everything open. We do not see any evidence of that at all. All we see is hindrance and people intimidating us,’ Mr Michielli said.

‘Our politicians need to start to listen to us and communicate with us – that would help. A bit of feedback about what is happening behind the scenes is also needed because otherwise those in the industry just get wound up and end up thinking the wrong things.

‘The politicians just need to get their heads together and talk to our industry and then talk to the EU.’

Many vessels from the Island’s fleet were in the Harbour yesterday morning when a large number left their berths at La Collette and joined a procession adjacent to the Albert Pier.

Several vessels then banded together in a line at the entrance to the pierheads – setting off flares and blowing their horns as they did so.

Speaking at the protest, Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, said he had appealed to Jersey’s government to meet him and other industry representatives to try to develop a strategy for dealing with the issues. However, he claimed that his request was not even acknowledged.

‘The frictionless trade that we were promised in return for access to our fishing grounds has just not materialised. It is almost a weekly occurrence that officials in the EU come up with another new constraint or barrier,’ he said. ‘What they [the French] are trying to do now is put the pressure on and make it as difficult as possible for our fleet, while their own fleet – 344 boats – continue to operate in our waters. They want that really high volume of boats to continue beyond the 30 April amnesty period.’

This is the deadline for French crews to prove they have a history of operating in Jersey waters, which would enable them to obtain a permit to continue to fish in the area.

Meanwhile, fisherman Steph Noel said he felt like he had been forgotten by the government.

Steph Noel. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30394579)

‘We are all struggling and we have had no help – they seem more concerned with helping the French fishermen at the moment than looking after local business,’ he said.

‘If you look at the Isle of Man, they negotiated their own fishing deal when it came to Brexit, so I do not know why we could not have done the same.’

And Paul Bizec, skipper of the Artful Dodger III, said he thought many in the industry would go bankrupt by the end of the year if problems continued.

‘The main concern is we cannot land in France and our waters are fished by the French, so we are going to go bankrupt and the French can prosper.

‘We want a level playing field but Senator Gorst is not listening at all,’ he added.

In a joint statement, Senator Gorst, Environment Minister John Young and Assistant Environment Minister Gregory Guida said that they would ‘continue to work with our fishermen and colleagues in the UK, France and the EU’ and confirmed that a support package for affected fishermen had been ‘signed off’.

The statement read: ‘Deputy Young and Senator Gorst fully understand and empathise with the situation in which whelk and scallop fishermen currently find themselves. This is not a challenge which is unique to Jersey, and it is one that ministers are working to resolve.

‘Government officials have recently received confirmation that whelks can be exported through St Malo with the relevant health certification and are not subject to purification.

‘This export process is very different from that which our fishermen previously experienced but it is a function of Jersey now being a third country for trade in goods with the EU. This particular situation is not directly related to the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and these new processes would be in place whether or not Jersey had agreed to participate in the TCA.

‘It should also be clarified that the EU has not downgraded Jersey waters, as the programme to establish that classification has not yet been completed. No classification for Jersey waters was required prior to the UK’s exit from the EU. Aquaculture concessions have, however, been classified for many years and an inappropriate read-across may have occurred.’

It added that should Jersey be excluded from the trade agreement, then the Bay of Granville treaty would remain in place, potentially giving more French vessels access to Jersey waters.

‘These challenging times require calm voices and a reasoned approach to the issues we are all facing,’ the statement continued.

‘The Government of Jersey supports our fishermen, and will do everything possible to protect and sustain the industry and the livelihoods that depend on it. Equally, we understand that a number of livelihoods in Normandy and Brittany are part of this story and have been for generations. Hostility can be perceived on all sides, and every effort must be made to keep this to a minimum.’

For more pictures of the protest, see pages 18 and 19 of Thursday's [11 March] JEP.

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