Oyster farmer: ‘It has been an absolute disgrace by our government’

JERSEY’S largest oyster producer says he stands side-by-side with aggrieved French fishermen and will even support a potential 'peaceful' port blockade – if it goes ahead.

Chris Le Masurier. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30777786)
Chris Le Masurier. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30777786)

Chris Le Masurier, owner of the Jersey Oyster Company, described conditions placed upon the new post-Brexit fishing licences issued to Breton and Norman fishermen as ‘insulting and discriminatory’.

He said: ‘I will stand with them and take the Normandy Trader [boat] and be with them to take part in a peaceful protest. It has been an absolute disgrace by our government. It is about protecting people’s historic rights, livelihoods and friendships which have been forged over years.

‘I would urge the government to act with the utmost urgency. When they are talking about an armada of French boats going to another jurisdiction [Jersey] – into another country’s official waters – and doing so with the support of the French government they have got to do something.

‘The government went out there and told them “don’t worry – as long as you have fished for ten days in 2017, 2018 or 2019 then you will be given a licence and can carry on”. But on Friday afternoon the licences were issued with all these conditions attached. It came to Monday morning and some could not go fishing.

‘I know one fisherman who has been told he can fish for 11 days between now and 13 April next year. There is another in Carteret who fishes for scallops, whelks and lobster who has only been given a licence for whelks. He has now got 720 lobster pots that are going to have to be taken away. When you see things like that happening you can start to understand why these people are upset.’

Mr Le Masurier said he could not personally understand why the conditions had been imposed and who had decided they should be implemented.

He added: ‘Who invented this criteria? There is no rhyme or reason to it. It has also only been attached to French vessels, not Jersey’s, and under the rules of the Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement both sides have got to be treated fairly. The government has left us wide open to facing an international disaster. I have now been told by the French not to land any shellfish or fish in French ports and that no commercial vessels will be allowed in either. Manche-Iles Express, Condor – everything would be impacted.

‘What a lot of people do not realise is that 90% of what is caught wild and farmed locally in Jersey is then exported to mainland Europe. There is one merchant who has bought lots of produce off the Jersey fishermen and had been planning to go to France either today or tomorrow – she has already paid them but it is just in tanks now. She cannot ship out [to Europe] and has had to tell fishermen not to go fishing. I have never known the situation with France to be so bad.’

However, Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fisherman’s Association, said Jersey had been ‘quite generous’ in its licensing scheme and described France’s response as an ‘over-reaction’.

Don Thompson. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30777800)

He said: ‘The EU have signed up to the [post-Brexit] Trade and Co-operation Agreement which states that Jersey must recognise the extent of previous fishing in our waters. The restrictions on the new licences cover what the French were already doing in our waters and are only preventing them from expanding their fishing efforts, which is needed if we are going to have sustainability in our waters.

‘A point that is being missed is that Jersey boats do not have licences to fish in French waters – we are restricted to our own territorial waters while they can use ours, if any restrictions are placed on their own.’

Mr Thompson also highlighted how the approved 41 French vessels had been given a licence for free and urged Jersey’s government not to give in to the French.

‘Our boats would be charged £250,000 if they were to have something similar. Our advice to ministers is that they should not capitulate to these intimidation and bullying tactics that are being used,’ he said.

‘If we do capitulate now then they are just going to do the same thing every time we try to apply some form of management to make our waters sustainable.’

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