‘Disagreement over data is fuelling fishing dispute’

A DISAGREEMENT over eligible data for fishing licences is fuelling the diplomatic dispute between Jersey and France, it has emerged.

External Relations Minister Ian Gorst. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (31887968)
External Relations Minister Ian Gorst. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (31887968)

External Relations Minister Ian Gorst and Home Affairs Minister Gregory Guida travelled to Paris this week for crunch talks with French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin – the politician who previously warned that France could cut off Jersey’s electricity supply if demands were not met.

Senator Gorst described conversations as ‘constructive’, adding that ‘technical’ meetings involving EU officials were taking place in Brussels, where officials will decide what type of evidence French fishermen will be able to submit to obtain a licence to access Jersey waters.

According to the rules of the post-Brexit trade and co-operation agreement – which States Members agreed to sign up to in December last year – any vessels wanting to fish in Island waters must prove they have already done so for at least ten days in 2017, 2018 or 2019.

At the end of September, a total of 64 licences were issued, adding to the existing 47. Meanwhile, temporary licences were given to 31 vessels for which almost enough acceptable data had been provided. A total of 75 vessels which have not met the criteria for a licence have been given until the end of the month to cease fishing in Jersey waters. However, until that time, the government will still consider any historical fishing data which they provide.

Explaining the situation, Senator Gorst said: ‘The argument around methodology [the type of evidence accepted] focuses on whether logbooks should be used, which is the methodology that we favour because we think it is the most granular proof, or whether you could use a technology-led approach that does not rely on the paperwork – there are two or three types of technology.

‘It is conversations about whether that sort of technological data can be relied upon and what their accuracy is, and about whether they are able to prove that they were in Jersey waters or if they were in the waters just around Jersey waters. It gets very technical and scientific very quickly.’

At the beginning of this month, Clément Beaune, the French secretary of state for European affairs, said his country could reduce its supply of electricity to Jersey rather than cut it off altogether. Meanwhile, Ms Girardin has warned her country could take ‘retaliatory measures’ at the end of the month if matters are not resolved.

However, Senator Gorst said, according to the terms of the agreement, only the EU could take Brexit-related retaliatory measures and that these, under the rules, would need to be ‘proportionate’.

‘We know from comments in France that there have been suggestions around tariffs on fish products and shellfish, there have been suggestions of port blockades but the fundamental point remains that we are seeking to abide by the terms of the trade deal and we call upon all parties to abide by the terms of the trade deal,’ said Senator Gorst. He added: ‘If those formalised bodies [the EU] believe there has been contravention of the trade deal, and we say that there has not, then any counter-measures that would be taken by the EU would have to be proportionate.’

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