Brexit row: Jersey fishers unveil resolution to violent French pushback ‘Was all they had’

Don Thompson: French fishermen threatening 'even before Brexit'

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Don Thompson spoke with and explained hostilities between French and Jersey fishers had existed before Brexit as French boats used violence and direct action to get try and get their way in the area. But Mr Thompson said because of Brexit, an unlikely resolution has emerged to calm the nerves between French and Jersey fishers as French boats now require new licences to operate in Jersey waters from September and UK boats have been shut out of French waters. Mr Thompson explained rather than resorting to violence, fearing protests could repeat later this year, both parties could use the licences as a negotiation tool where Jersey fishers could be allowed in French waters and vice versa.

Mr Thompson told about the situation in Jersey and explained what the relationship was like between them and their French counterparts.

He explained: “Even before Brexit, even before that deadline date, French fishermen were threatening to use force as they just never had anything else to trade for fishing rights in UK waters.

“That was all they had to resolve to, it should always be fish for fish if French fishermen wanted to fish in our waters or in UK waters.

“It should have been that they offered access in return, and rather, what’s happened has been the threat of action of burning boats and whatever else they might want to do.

“This is where we’ve separated from our government to some extent in saying that every time that Jersey’s Government capitulate to that sort of threat that just lays down a marker for the future where we get that sort of response.

“Like every time we try to do something like to manage stocks in our waters or something French fishers don’t like.”

Despite some clashes, Mr Thompson has admitted he is often in contact with his French counterparts and has worked with them before on things like a rescue mission.

However, Mr Thompson is saddened that the situation has now turned “hostile” among fishers and government representatives.

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As part of the Brexit agreement, French boats are required to provide evidence they have historically operated in Jersey waters as licences are reviewed.

However, French boats protested in the waters surrounding St Helier after they claim they were not consulted on the decision and blasted the French government for not acting fast enough.

Extensions were granted to the “grace period” meaning French boats have until September to come up with the right documentation before they are blocked out.

But Mr Thompson says morale among Jersey fishers is at an all-time low as they are angry they have not seen any real benefit from allowing French boats to continue operating despite being promised greater control over their territorial waters.

He suggests UK boats should be allowed to land their Class B caught shellfish in France as part of licence agreements after EU law prevents them from entering the bloc unless they are treated. 

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The fishing boss also told that around 200 French boats have submitted applications to operate in Jersey waters but says it is likely only 60-70 will actually be awarded.

He explains French maritime authorities were able to award themselves licences under old agreements with around 200 awarded in total.

Mr Thompson says France will present the majority of these licences to Jersey for approval despite many never visiting Jersey.

A spokesperson from the Government of Jersey told “A total of 222 applications have been received by the Government of Jersey since 1 January 2021, 47 licences have been issued to date.

“Jersey has requested that the EU submits any further data relating to existing applications by the end of July.

“It is not possible to discuss how many vessels will qualify for a licence until the additional data has been submitted via the formal EU-UK channels, and then reviewed by the Marine Resources team.”

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