French ‘may deny fishing fleet access to their ports’

FEARS of a re-escalation of tensions between Jersey and France are growing after the Island’s fleet were warned they risk being turned away from ports next month, with a protest set to take place this weekend in Normandy.

Picture: JON GUEGAN.
Picture: JON GUEGAN.

An amnesty period allowing French vessels unfettered access to Jersey waters is due to expire in two weeks, after which those unable to prove a history of fishing within the Island’s territorial area could be refused access. One organisation representing the Gallic industry said it was preparing to launch a protest near the continental end of one of Jersey’s three sub-sea power cables. They claim that there are still up to 80 small vessels under 12 metres that are waiting to receive a licence.

Environment Minister John Young has revealed that a ‘small’ extension to the amnesty period may be necessary to avoid another conflict. He added that he was hopeful the crisis could be resolved before the end of the year and ‘a lot of information’ had been provided ‘relatively recently’ but that this would take time to process before any additional licences were issued.

Chris Le Masurier, owner of the Jersey Oyster Company, which exports around 1,000 tonnes of produce to France each year, said he had been warned to ‘expect trouble’ when trying to land in France at the end of the month.

‘We have basically been told or advised not to land in France [at the end of the month], but personally I am not that worried. I think I have got enough of a good working relationship with France and if I am going to get stuck somewhere I would probably rather get stuck in France than in Jersey at the moment. I feel so let down by our government.’

He added: ‘Aquaculture is a bit different, as we have our stuff on the beach and we can bring it up the beach [to slow its growth]. We have got a bit of a buffer. Whereas the fishermen that land here to a merchant – they have got the capacity of about a week or about two weeks maximum. After that they cannot take any more and then they will have to tell the fishermen, “You cannot fish anymore”.’

Mr Le Masurier alleged that no licences had been issued to French fishermen in six months and called on the government not to leave issuing these until the near the deadline, so that any potential individual issues could be resolved.

He claimed that the late issuing of licences had partly led to the mass protest in May, when around 70 Norman and Breton fishing boats demonstrated in Jersey’s Harbour.

Deputy Young said that the amnesty period might be extended once again.

He said: ‘I have just had a further briefing on this and we are making further progress. Everyone wants to get this sorted, including our French neighbours. There has been a lot of discussion taking place and information being exchanged.

‘It might not be resolved by 30 September – I think there will need to be a short amount of extra time. Under the TCA [post-Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement] there is a 30-day notification requirement which we need to comply with, so we cannot just do this immediately [impose licence restrictions].

‘I am hopeful we will not have to issue a blanket amnesty again like we have done, and that is good news for Jersey. We want to put this behind us.’

Asked whether he was confident that the fishing crisis would be resolved before the end of the year, Deputy Young said: ‘Yes.’

One of the groups behind Saturday’s planned protest in Normandy at the site of one of Jersey’s subsea electricity cables says the problems relate to smaller French fishing boats, which, unlike their larger counterparts, are not fitted with a vessel monitoring system which records data needed for licences.

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