Minister: ‘No dramatic rise in fishing by the French’

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During yesterday’s States sitting, Senator Ian Gorst said he had held several meetings with the European Commission, French government and regional authorities, and would be meeting officials in Brittany this week.

Tensions between Jersey’s fleet and their French counterparts have been escalating for several months after the UK’s exit from the European Union brought an end to the Bay of Granville Treaty, which had previously regulated access to Jersey’s territorial waters.

Senator Gorst said he was ‘aware’ of claims of overfishing and the ‘suggestion French boats are taking advantage of Jersey’s amnesty’.

He said: ‘However, I understand from the marine-resources team that the fishing was legal and was not dramatically different from normal levels for this time of year.’

Jersey’s fishing fleet raised concerns earlier this month that French boats off the Island’s west coat were ‘decimating’ the local seabed. Jersey Fishermen’s Association president Don Thompson said they were using unsustainable ‘industrial fishing methods’.

Local fishermen have also claimed that they have, on occasion, been prevented from landing their catch in France. Last month, a number of the Island’s fleet staged a protest in St Helier Harbour.

An amnesty was granted in February giving foreign vessels, required to apply for a licence to fish in Jersey waters, time to complete the necessary paperwork. This amnesty period was originally due to finish at the end of April but has since been extended for a further two months.

Senator Gorst said: ‘I think we are all in agreement in this Assembly, and in the wider community, that our waters must be fished sustainably.’

Deputy Mike Higgins had asked Senator Gorst to provide an update on discussions with French and European Union authorities regarding access by French fishing boats to Jersey waters and Island fishermen’s access to French ports and markets. The terms of the TECA agreement, which replaced the Bay of Granville Treaty post-Brexit, were ‘clear’ in returning access and control to territorial waters, Deputy Higgins said.

He added: ‘There has been a number of implementation issues to work through. We would like them to ensure that those bureaucratic measures are alleviated as much as possible.’

Senator Gorst said he was speaking to authorities in La Manche about setting up a border post there.

The minister said it was important to maintain a ‘positive relationship’ and continue to talk as the amnesty came to an end.

‘If we stop talking and if we behave in an unco-operative manner, these issues will continue,’ he said.

A system would be brought in after the amnesty, allowing Environment Minister John Young to issue licences ‘in a sustainable manner with sustainability at the heart of this’, Senator Gorst added.

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