Warning of ‘more violent’ protests in fishing row

JERSEY has been warned of potentially ‘more violent’ protests over fishing rights unless the crisis can be resolved, the president of the La Manche region has confirmed.

Picture: JON GUEGAN. (31733653)
Picture: JON GUEGAN. (31733653)

Speaking during a Normandy-Channel Islands summit press conference yesterday, Jean Morin said he had expressed ‘serious concern’ to his Jersey counterparts over the possibility of more action in St Helier Harbour and said solutions needed to be found ‘quickly’.

But he said significant progress was now expected and he appeared to encourage Jersey ministers when he said: ‘I can see our friends in the Channel Islands are making every effort to address the situation in the terms in which we have put it’.

He added: ‘I have voiced my concern this morning about the agitation in the fishing industry particularly in La Manche and Normandy. A demonstration was taking place in Cherbourg today and these are more assertive.’

Making reference to the previous demonstration in the spring when dozens of boats blockaded the harbour, he said: ‘I did express my concern in a previous video conference to my Channel Islands colleagues that if there was a further postponement [of a new fishing licensing scheme] we could see something along the lines of what we saw on 6 May, if not more violent.

‘This is a serious concern for us.’

The crisis began when numerous French fishing boats were denied a post-Brexit licence to operate in Jersey waters because they had not demonstrated a history of operating in the area.

Jersey ministers appeared cautiously optimistic after announcing that the Island would – in addition to licensing French boats that have established their right to fish in local waters – also grant temporary licenses to those which ‘have not yet quite got over the line’.

These will extend their right to fish until 31 January next year while further evidence of their fishing record is assembled.

External Relations Minister Ian Gorst would not confirm the number of boats which have received licences, nor the number that would be granted a temporary extension.

But he said they ‘would not walk away’ from French fishermen who had worked with the Environment Department to demonstrate their historic right to fish in Island waters.

The announcement of the measures to be introduced when the current amnesty expires on Friday was timed to coincide with the summit meeting. Environment Minister John Young confirmed that French boats which have not demonstrated their right to a licence under the trade agreement (TECA) to which Jersey is party, will lose their right to fish in 30 days’ time.

‘The only conclusion we can draw from that is that they haven’t actually been fishing in our waters in the terms the TECA envisages,’ Senator Gorst said.

Senator Gorst said he hoped that the issuing of temporary licences alongside the regular permits would be regarded as uncontentious. ‘We would hope that it would be but we are not naïve,’ he said. Ministers held discussions with their counterparts from Normandy at yesterday’s summit meeting.

The new measures will supersede the ‘transitional arrangements’ which included the amnesty period, and are designed to ease the rising tensions between France and Jersey which has seen threats from French politicians to cut the Island’s electricity supply and the French blockade of St Helier Harbour earlier this year.

Senator Gorst added that the requirement under the terms of the TECA to give 30 days’ notice of impending changes meant that the end of September ‘cliff edge’ had been removed but he said that the Island was prepared for unforeseen developments. ‘We continue to plan for contingencies in the way that we always do,’ he said.

Explaining the announcement, the timing of which was linked to yesterday’s meeting, Senator Gorst said: ‘We would expect, having gathered a good deal of information, to be able to announce the number of licences [for fishermen] who have provided all the information and that they will be able to be licensed.

‘We would also expect that there are a number of boats that we continue to work very hard on that have not yet quite got over the line with enough information and so we expect to issue a temporary licence for a period of time for those boats.

‘And then we’ve got some boats which, with the best will in the world, just haven’t got the information, and the only conclusion we can draw from that is that they haven’t actually been fishing in our waters in the terms the TECA envisages and they will have 30 days’ notice unless there is evidence brought forward in 30 days,’ he said.

lSenator Gorst is the subject of today’s Saturday Interview.

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