“We have to be realistic”: France is preparing fishermen for the worst with Brexit

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PARIS (Reuters) – France will compensate its fishermen or teach them new skills if negotiations collapse for a post-Brexit trade deal that threatens their livelihoods, a minister said, in a bid to avoid skirmishes at sea between the French and the British. boats.

FILE PHOTO: A fisherman looks at the aquarium aboard the Boulogne-sur-Mer-based trawler “Nicolas Jeremy” in the North Sea, off the coast of northern France, December 8, 2020. REUTERS / Pascal Rossignol

French fishing boats have in the past crashed into British ships and their crews threw projectiles when they felt rivals had invaded their waters, most recently during the so-called Scallop War of 2018.

Many believe skirmishes could erupt again, especially if no trade deal is struck between Britain and the European Union, as existing transitional rules that still give EU ships access to the waters bonds expire at the end of the year.

“I want to avoid incidents at sea and the exasperation, or even anger, that is expressed,” French Sea Minister Annick Girardin told Reuters.

“I am the daughter of a fisherman, I know what these types of confrontations can be and the consequences they can have. I will try to prevent them, ”said Girardin, who comes from the tiny French archipelago of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Canada, in an interview.

As Minister of the Seas, she was responsible for drawing up an emergency plan to compensate fishing stakeholders. She said they would receive financial assistance and even support to learn new skills and change jobs whether or not a fisheries agreement was reached.

“I know sailors don’t like to pack their bags, nobody wants to be subsidized for not working, but it’s probably something we’re going to have to face,” she said.

A third of France’s 7,500 fishermen will be affected by Brexit, she said, mainly along the coasts of Calais, Normandy and Brittany.

French fishermen have pressured Macron not to give up an inch on fishing rights, but his government quietly abandoned initial demands to maintain the status quo and sought to prepare them for concessions.

While a deal would almost certainly mean a reduction in quotas in UK waters, no deal would mean zero access for EU vessels. Britain and the EU set a deadline on Sunday to seal a new trade pact.

“I am an optimist by nature, but you have to be realistic at the same time. We only have a few hours left until Sunday. The positions are very far apart on fishing, ”she said.

“I come from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon, the discussions on fishing with Canada were very tough. When negotiating, you need to prepare for the best and the worst. “

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Edmund Blair

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