France vs UK: Why French fishermen are protesting in UK waters – ‘Close to an act of war’

Jersey 'taking threats from France very seriously' says Gorst

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The French fishing boats are gathered at the entrance to Jersey’s main port of St Helier and had threatened to blockade the port on Thursday morning which would prevent supplies from reaching the island. However, they pulled away on Thursday to allow a freight vessel to leave. Now, the UK has sent two Royal Navy vessels to patrol the area, which the government said was to “monitor the situation”.

Why are French fishermen protesting?

The dispute is centred around the shared waters in the 13-mile stretch between France and Jersey.

New fishing licences were issued on Friday – the last day of a four-month grace period after Brexit – which ended the 200-year-old Granville Bay treaty on shared fishing rights.

These licenses are now needed by European vessels to fish in Jersey waters, but the fishermen say they come with a long list of restrictions they never agreed to and are difficult to obtain.

Under an agreement with the EU, French boat operators must show a history of fishing in the area to receive a licence for Jersey’s waters, but it has been claimed additional requirements were added without notice.

On Friday, the Jersey government – which has the sole power to grant the licenses – granted 41 permits to French fishing vessels that are equipped with technology that allows them to be located.

But the French government claimed the list of approved ships came with further demands that “were not arranged or discussed, and which we were not notified about”.

The French maritime minister, Annick Girardin, said she was “revolted” by the UK’s behaviour and suggested France could cut off electricity to Jersey in retaliation.

Jersey relies on “the transmission of electricity by underwater cable”, Ms Girardin said as she indicated the supply could be used as a point of leverage.

She told assembly members that she “would regret it if we were to get there,” but added: “We will do so if we have to.”

On Wednesday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged his “unwavering support” for Jersey, the largest Channel Island and a Crown dependency, located 14 miles (22km) off France.

He added that “any blockade” by French boats would be “completely unjustified”.

The threat of a blockade around Jersey’s port has been likened to “pretty close to an act of war” by fishing communities in St Helier.

Head of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, Don Thompson, said: “It was inevitable that the French would kick-off.

“But the reaction we’re seeing from France is almost like something you would see from Iran or Russia.

“They’re not just saying they can cut off the electricity supply, French fishermen are saying that they’re coming tomorrow [Thursday] to blockade the harbour in time to stop the ferries from coming in so there’ll be no food supply and no fuel coming into the island either. So it comes pretty close to an act of war, this.”

Mr Thompson defended Jersey’s new licensing system, saying the old treaty was flawed and this one will allow them to manage their waters and prioritise sustainability.

He said: “[The Granville Bay treaty] gave the French the authority to write their own access permits for waters, and consequently we’ve seen a decline in the primary shellfish stocks.”

However, critics have said the new system is grossly unfair to fishermen who rely on the waters to make a living.

Chris Le Masurier, who runs Jersey Oyster and Normandy Trader Freight, said: “I see it as very much an insult to [the French fishermen] and they are extremely upset.

“The criteria that they were given was to prove they have fished in Jersey waters for 10 days. Nothing about what species were caught, nothing about if you’ve fished for 20 days or 30 days [and having to] prove that.”

He added: “It seems that the new licences were sent out Friday and then everyone ran out of the office. It was a complete insult to the French.

“It’s as if an apprentice who started on Friday has issued the licences. This has all been done in a pathetic way.”

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