French fisherman warns of 'never-ending war' with Jersey
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Under post-Brexit fishing arrangements, any French vessel which previously held a Bay of Granville Treaty (GBT) permit is free to fish off the coast of Jersey while authorities process applications for new licences. Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, said the “amnesty period” in place until the end of April has led to a five-fold increase in French boats around the island.
He said since the end of the Brexit transition period the number of French trawlers fishing in the waters has increased from around 70 to more than 300.
He also claimed their presence is a direct violation of the EU’s regulations against IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing).
When contacted by Express.co.uk the European Commission insisted French boats were allowed to fish in Jersey waters as part of “transitional arrangements”.
However, Mr Thompson accused Brussels of exerting pressure on Jersey to accept unfair terms while authorities work to put post-Brexit fishing plans in place.
He told Express.co.uk: “We’ve ended up in a situation where the EU have said to Jersey, look the French fishermen are struggling to get their act together and get their data and information to prove historic effort in your waters, can you give them three or four months to get that together?
“And unfortunately, that says that any French boat that previously held a permit whether they accessed our waters or not has now the right to fish in our waters without any permit at all.
“So it’s actually a breach of international regulations in that fishing in external waters by EU vessels without a permit is a breach of what they call IUU – illegal, unregulated, unrecorded fishing effort.
“The EU effectively put pressure on Jersey to enable a situation that effectively breaches regulations on IUU fishing.
“That’s not opinion, that’s a fact that the EU have demanded that their vessels, their French vessels at least, be allowed to access our waters – even those that didn’t previously access our waters.
“We have 344 boats accessing our waters at the moments with no permits, nothing, no control over what they do, and 97 of them are over 12 metres with the biggest ones up to 25 meters and 1,000 horsepower.
“So you can imagine our fishermen trying to compete at sea with these big powerful vessels not respecting our regulations. Or fishermen are really struggling at the moment.”
The EU’s IUU legislation which came into force in 2010 applies to all fishing vessels, under any flag, in all maritime waters.
Since then, the European Commission has issued 26 warning to countries across the globe, according to monitoring group IUU Watch.
The green, yellow and red flag system is designed to ensure nations exporting fish to the EU, the world’s largest seafood market, comply with its rules.
Under the bloc’s strict punishment system countries found to have not met its fishing standards risk being “carded” which could ultimately lead to their fish being excluded from the EU market.
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On its website, the Commission says it is “working actively with all stakeholders to ensure coherent application of the IUU Regulation”.
When Express.co.uk approached the Commission about the claims of illegal fishing, a spokesperson said Britain and the local government had agreed to the terms of the interim deal.
They said: “On February 4, 2021, the UK authorities confirmed to the Commission the political commitment of the Government of Jersey to put in place transitional arrangements for EU vessels fishing in Jersey waters, allowing those vessels that held Granville Bay Area permits to continue to have access to Jersey waters until the end of April 2021.
“These interim arrangements are in place while awaiting issuing of full licences.”
On the wider UK-EU post-Brexit trade deal, Mr Thompson said he was left “speechless” by the terms of it and said it means that Jersey fishermen “do not even have a proper three mile” limit.
He said the trade pact was clearly unfair to Jersey trawlermen as they are not allowed to go that close to the French coast.
He explained: “It’s an asymmetrical deal just like the Granville Bay Treaty was effectively, it’s very one-sided. So obviously we’re not very pleased with it.”
Under Jersey law, as a self-governing territory and Crown dependency, the island has the power to opt in or reject the deal.
The island’s parliament approved its participation in the pact days after it was struck by Boris Johnson and the EU.
French fishermen are currently submitting to authorities their evidence of historical activity in the waters in the hope of gaining access to the plentiful fishing grounds after April 30.
The rules stipulate that boats must prove they have fished around the Channel Islands for at least 10 days in any of the past three years in order to be granted a licence.
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But Mr Thompson argued such a low number of days means “there is no real economic link” between many of France’s trawlers and the plentiful waters yet “they are managing to get through the hoops.”
He predicts only four of five of Jersey’s boats will qualify for post-Brexit access to French waters while up to 70 vessels from France stand to qualify for licences to catch fish around the island.
He said Jersey’s Government had failed to effectively stick up for the rights of fishermen on the island, adding: “Regularly we see our politicians effectively capitulate to pressure from the French.
He added: “It really is tough and it wouldn’t be so bad only that our authorities have taken a lenient approach to allowing French fishing vessels who access our waters to carry on in the interim while they are providing their documentary evidence of a historic track record of fishing in our waters.”
Ian Gorst, Jersey’s minister for external relations, played down Mr Thompson’s claims of a huge increase in French fishing activity in the area.
He said: “The Government of Jersey disagrees with the claim that the transition period, which has maintained the licensing arrangements of the past 20 years, has seen a five-fold increase in effort. Evidence does not show any significant increase from previous years.”
Mr Gorst said the trade deal signed by Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen states there is to be “no preference for Jersey or French fishermen” when it comes to managing the plentiful waters around the island.
He added: “The Government of Jersey sympathises with the fishing industry, which is why it is using all diplomatic, practical and economic means to support the industry.
“Jersey values the deep and historic relationship it has with France, especially with Normandy and Brittany, and is therefore working hard to achieve harmony in the region in the face of this very challenging issue.”
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