Ministers accused of appeasing a ‘hostile French government’

MINISTERS have been accused of trying to appease a ‘hostile French government’ by the Island’s fishing association following a ‘shock announcement’ that an amnesty allowing French boats to use Jersey’s waters would be extended.

Don Thompson. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30573254)
Don Thompson. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30573254)

A statement by the Jersey Fishermen’s Association said that members of the Island’s fleet were still trying to ‘come to terms’ with the government’s announcement without having first been informed about the extension.

On 27 December the States agreed to participate in the EU and UK’s Trade and Co-operation Agreement, which introduced a new fisheries-management regime that superseded the Granville Bay Treaty. Under the new system, foreign vessels are required to apply to the Environment Minster for a licence to use the Island’s waters. As part of that process they must prove their historical activity in the area.

The move effectively banned unlicensed foreign boats from fishing in the Island’s waters from the start of the year.

But in January, Jersey announced an amnesty period until 30 April for fishermen to get their paperwork in order. Last week External Relations Minister Ian Gorst and Environment Minister John Young announced that the amnesty would be extended until June.

Deputy Young called on the French to recognise this ‘goodwill’ by moving forward with opening a border-inspection post at Granville and to take a more ‘pragmatic’ approach to post-Brexit paperwork, both of which would help Jersey fishermen land their catch in France.

But Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, said that the group had told ministers during a meeting last week that previous ‘goodwill’ on the part of Jersey had not been returned.

‘We put it to the ministers in the meeting that we should have learned from the first amnesty that was agreed with the French that they didn’t reciprocate it in good faith,’ he said.

‘They just increased their fishing effort, increased the barriers to trade and things have just gotten steadily worse since we offered that hand of friendship.

‘In the meeting, as well, the ministers suggested that we are wanting go to war with the French. We’re not. All we’re saying is that the Trade and Co-operation Agreement is what it is. We were told in the vote on the 27th of December that the TCA was non-negotiable. We’ve already seen this amnesty that was effectively an amendment to the TCA, and now we’ve got another amnesty, which is another amendment.

‘There’s lots of things in the TCA that we would love to change to suit us – so why are the ministers accusing us of going to war?’

And in a further statement issued by the JFA, ministers were accused of putting the desires of the French vessels ahead of the Island’s fleet.

‘Aside from the damage done to Jersey’s scallop stocks and fishing grounds by large, powerful vessels, an increasing number of Jersey fishermen have recorded losses of their fishing gear as pots are needlessly towed away by French vessels and lost, thus depriving Jersey fishermen of the ability to earn a living in their own waters. In some cases, the gear damage has been in areas where access is prohibited to French vessels,’ the statement says.

It adds: ‘It would seem that ministers, in approving the amnesty extension, are keen to appease a rather hostile French government while being apparently oblivious to the fact that we have a struggling fleet of our own, trying to adapt to a post-Brexit arrangement that looks set to continue much of the previous imbalance and bias of fishing rights, favouring France, in Jersey’s waters, that existed under the catastrophic Granville Bay Treaty.’

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