French fishermen ‘getting ready to attack St Helier’

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Dimitri Rogoff made the comments this week after 75 French vessels were refused a licence to fish in Island waters, when their crews failed to provide sufficient information to demonstrate a history of working in the area. Unless they provide this evidence within 30 days, they must cease operating here.

Mr Rogoff said: ‘They are ready to attack St Helier. It is tense – very, very tense.’

His comments followed a warning from Annick Girardin, the French Minister of the Sea, about ‘retaliatory measures’ the French government could take. Her comments about the ‘energy issue’ followed a warning she made earlier this year about cutting off Jersey’s electricity supply from France.

She also questioned whether her country should continue to welcome British students in France, as well as the possibility of placing restrictions on trade links and railways.

Clément Beaune, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, said he and his colleagues would be finalising a ‘response’ to the issue within the coming days. He said: ‘The failure to respect the agreement and the rights guaranteed to our fishermen now requires an urgent response.’

However, Chris Le Masurier, owner of the Jersey Oyster Company, who spoke to the JEP yesterday from Granville – a port frequented by many Jersey fishermen – said the tense political situation did not appear to match the relatively calm scene on the ground.

The aquaculturalist added that local skippers there were less interested in protesting and were simply keen to ‘get out and fish’.

Although 75 licences were refused this week, 64 new permanent licences were issued to French fishermen – in addition to the existing 47 – who have proven a history of operating in Jersey waters. A total of 31 temporary licences have been issued to those who have almost provided enough evidence. They have until the end of January next year to hand over the outstanding information.

Describing the situation in Granville, Mr Le Masurier said: ‘In France, generally those who have the right to fish here and those who fit the criteria have got a licence. At a local level, everything is business as normal.

‘For those who have got a licence, it is great because they know they have got that security and can go out fishing.

‘For those on the amber list, they know they have to get their information together in the timescale to get a licence and let’s hope those people on the red list, who think that they are eligible, can provide the necessary evidence so that they can carry on like their colleagues.

‘The demand is high at the moment and the price is good so let the fishermen get out there and fish.’

Asked whether there had been any discussion among his French counterparts about a port closure for Jersey vessels, he said: ‘Not at all. Their thinking has changed on this and they are now saying “it is time to look at the individual cases”. Maybe there are a few boats that are still uncertain but hopefully now they have more time to look at those cases if they have not been given a licence.’

The calm scenes are a stark contrast to those witnessed in May when about 70 Breton and Norman vessels staged a high-profile protest around the Harbour, and French ports were closed to Island vessels in a move which virtually shut down the Island’s fishing industry overnight.

Despite some being pleased by the easing of tensions, the skipper of one of Jersey’s largest commercial fishing vessels has claimed that members of his fleet continue to be discriminated against – with Jersey fishermen having to endure greater bureaucracy than their French counterparts despite working in the same waters.

Michael Michieli, skipper of L’Ecume II, said he was not happy that French boats had been given valuable Jersey fishing licences and claimed that the Island had been given nothing in return.

‘That our government is just giving out licences for nothing raises the question “what are we getting back out of it when they are taking our resources?”

‘We are not even allowed to land scallops and whelks directly [into France] when the French can take it straight back there with no paperwork whatsoever. We can be fishing right alongside them and yet we have to come back to Jersey to get a vet certificate and then we can export [into France].

‘What is all that about? We are being discriminated against. It is first-class discrimination if you ask me,’ he said.

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