Michael Michieli, owner of L’Ecume II, said that there were now only a small number of Jersey vessels going to sea as the local market was too small to support them.
His comments came after harbours in La Manche – which includes the crucial Granville and Carteret ports – were formally closed to Island fishermen. The government says it is raising the issue with the European Commission.
External Relations Minister Ian Gorst said: ‘We regret this action and don’t believe it is compliant with the terms of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. For that reason we will refer the notice of this decision immediately to the European Commission.’
The closure happened just a day after a high-profile blockade of the Harbour involving around 70 boats from across Brittany and Normandy, as tensions grow over the issuing of licences allowing European boats access to Jersey waters as part of a post-Brexit trade deal.
The dispute has escalated into a diplomatic crisis between the Island, the UK, the EU and France, which has banned any imports of shellfish from Jersey.
Asked whether the fleet would collapse if issues were not resolved, Mr Michieli said: ‘Yes – if there is nowhere for boats to sell any of their products. The Island can only sustain a small market with a small amount of lobsters, crabs and a bit of fish. It is a limited market; it and the fleet will collapse. It probably has about another year – half the fleet is already up for sale.
‘The younger guys are not likely to be able to keep their payments up on their boats. Myself, I am not going to get any [financial] help. This could be it. I bought my boat big enough so I can export fish directly to France but if I cannot export, my business cannot survive.’
Asked how much the fleet was losing, Mr Michieli said he was unable to say but, with the French markets closed to Jersey, he was not making any money.
‘I have still got bills that I need to pay – it is about £13,500 each year for insurance and about £5,000 in mooring fees alone.
‘I cannot really speak for them. There are still some boats with static gear carrying on but they are not going flat out. All boats with mobile gear I can speak for – they are 100% tied up.’
Meanwhile, Nathalie Porritt, director of Jersey shellfish merchants Aqua-Mar, said she currently had around six to seven tonnes of crab, lobster and scallops caught by local fishermen stuck in tanks unable to be exported into Europe.
She added that notices had been issued to merchants in Normandy ordering them not to buy any produce from Jersey and that she had been forced to stop buying from local boats until the situation was resolved.
‘We have now closed trading down and the tanks are pretty full with about six or seven tonnes of live shellfish worth about £70,000 landed by local boats and paid for by us. With the problems that we are having I just cannot see it being resolved anytime soon so I have taken the decision to close our doors,’ she said.
‘It is not just France that we export to but also Italy and Portugal but obviously, because of our geographical position, we have to export through France.
‘We normally send one big load at the start of the week and a second one towards the end so it probably works out at around £100,000 worth of local shellfish being exported each week.
‘Our customers still really want our product but the government in Normandy has issued notices to traders over there telling them that they are not permitted to buy any shellfish from Jersey. I am not sure if it is a legal thing but it has brought our industry to a complete standstill.
‘There are the smaller boats out fishing today for the local markets which supply restaurants and the pop-up stalls but if this is not resolved you will soon see the bigger boats start to tie up.’
Meanwhile, Guernsey’s External Relations lead Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq said that the rising tensions were now causing problems for Sarnian fishermen.
He said: ‘The Bailiwick’s interim fishing arrangements in place since the beginning of this year have not changed and no formal measures have been introduced preventing Guernsey’s fishing fleet from landing their catches in France. However, tensions are still high as the dispute between our neighbours continues and, for that reason, French merchants have advised local fishing crews to wait until the situation has calmed down before they resume landings. As we said earlier this week, we hope a swift resolution can be reached for the benefit of relations in the region.’