FISHERMEN from Jersey and France have met to discuss ways to avoid conflicts and confrontation on the water.
The meeting this month was the first since Norman and Breton fishing vessels blockaded the Harbour in May last year in a protest over post-Brexit fishing rights.
Relations deteriorated to such an extent last summer that the UK sent two naval vessels to Jersey in response to the blockade and some French politicians threatened to cut off the Island’s electricity supply.
The president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, Don Thompson, said the meetings were an important first step in improving relations with their French counterparts.
‘We invited the French fishermen and representatives to Jersey for this first meeting,’ Mr Thompson said. ‘We are working for solutions. Typical of fishermen, the meeting was very forthright. We got right to the point and did not hold back.’
One of the most important issues for Island operators has been the designation of Jersey waters as ‘class B’, meaning scallop and whelk fishermen are no longer allowed to land their catch directly into France, and instead have to purify their goods in Jersey before they are exported.
Norman and Breton fishermen who fish in the same waters can, however, land their catch in France
Mr Thompson said the move seemed to be ‘some form of retaliation’ for Brexit and that Island politicians should have addressed it immediately through negotiations with French authorities.
He said he hoped the new government, led by Chief Minister Kristina Moore, would prioritise the issue.
‘Politicians that cover fishing and export and external relations will need to engage with us to find solutions to these ongoing problems,’ Mr Thompson said.
For their part, French representatives raised concerns that some of their boats had yet to receive permits to fish in Jersey waters. But Mr Thompson said the criteria for French boats to gain such access was ‘straightforward and clear’.
French boats must demonstrate that they fished in Jersey waters in the years before 2020 and that they are using designated equipment.
‘They have been given 133 licences, a quite high number,’ Mr Thompson said.
‘In contrast, Jersey boats only got six licences for French waters.’
With an important part of the post-Brexit Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement still to be worked out, the JFA is hoping more common ground can be established.
These next negotiations will determine the nature and extent of the fishing rights – how much fish can be caught and when and where and what methods can be used.
‘I hope we have direct dialogue on something so important,’ Mr Thompson said.
He added that the JFA hoped the meetings with the French would become more regular and that he expected the next one would be held in France.
‘We had a really good, productive meeting,’ Mr Thompson said. ‘Everyone came away with something from it and we have some solid proposals on how to avoid conflicts at sea.’