Deputy John Young said that he was expecting the Island’s main patrol boat, the Norman Le Brocq, to return to Jersey next week, following re-equipping, and that the vessel would assist stepped-up enforcement action.
Tensions between French and Jersey fishermen have grown since Brexit and after the Island gained control over which vessels are licensed to fish in its waters. Before 1 January, fishing rights were shared with France under the Bay of Granville Treaty.
The new arrangements were set out in the UK and EU’s Trade and Co-operation Agreement, in which Jersey agreed to participate on 27 December. Under the new agreement, French boats are eligible for a licence if they have proof of historical activity in the Island’s waters.
They were granted an amnesty initially until 30 April, which was then extended to the end of June, to organise their paperwork.
The extension provoked anger among the Jersey Fishermen’s Association who said that this ‘goodwill’ had not been reciprocated by the French fleet, which has been reported as upping fishing activity in, and on the edge of, the Island’s waters recently. Jersey’s fleet has also faced added difficulties landing its catch in France due to post-Brexit bureaucracy.
Deputy Young said that he had investigated recent reports of French vessels increasingly using Jersey’s waters and was looking to take action.
‘There are now four occasions that I’m aware of in the last week where we have had a large number of vessels off the west of the Island,’ he said.
‘I asked the officers to check them to see what their status was. What I got back is that the vessels, all bar one, were on the list of boats which the EU set out as licensed under the former Granville Bay agreements, which is what the new agreement required. But what is different is that of those boats, only six had any qualifying track record within our waters. That anecdotally reflects what we know, which is that we’ve not seen that number of boats in our waters for many years, and those boats are not ones that have regularly fished in our waters. The whole point of the amnesty was to allow those boats that have fished here historically to continue doing so. This is not acting within the spirit of the agreement and the goodwill that we’ve put forward is not being reciprocated.’
The minister said that he ‘would consider closing fisheries for everyone’ in certain areas if ‘science and evidence’ suggested that stocks were under threat.
‘There is obviously some very intensive fishing happening and that could reduce stocks probably to a point where they are fished out,’ he said. ‘That’s why I’ve asked the External Relations Minister [Ian Gorst] to make representations to the French and the EU to ask them to abide by the agreement as well. What we want to achieve is sustainable fisheries and to have a fair arrangement for sharing those waters, so that both those French boats who have traditionally done so and our fishermen can have a decent future.’
He added that Jersey’s marine resources patrol boat, the Norman Le Brocq, would soon return from the UK following a refit, which had included the installation of boarding equipment.
‘Fortunately, I’m expecting our big patrol boat back next week. It’s been getting refitting and re-equipping because of the new requirements for Brexit,’ he said.
‘We’re going to have to do a lot more work at sea and we were getting funds for it through the Brexit budget. This is a matter that the Environment Scrutiny Panel highlighted and to which I gave an agreement that the marine resources team would be increased and brought up to strength in both equipment and manpower.’
It is understood that Senator Gorst was due to speak to EU officials today.