Saint-Hélier (Jersey) (AFP)
“If it continues like this, there will be no more fishing around here,” warns Loic Farnham, a 30-year-old fisherman, after post-Brexit rule changes sparked a furious French protest.
Jersey’s picturesque main port, St Helier, on Thursday saw French fishermen protest angrily against the new system for allocating fishing rights.
A flotilla of boats sailed at dawn and threatened to blockade the harbor. The stalemate briefly escalated, with Britain sending in gunboats.
Jersey-based fishermen varied as to how harsh they viewed French direct action.
But they agreed that the post-Brexit deal had affected their fragile livelihoods and relations with neighboring France.
“If we had been to a port in France, I hate to think about what would have happened to our boats,” Richard Lebrun, 69, a 40-year-old fisherman, said in defense of the UK’s reaction. .
“Let’s be honest, you are more famous for throwing and firing petrol bombs,” he told a French AFP journalist.
French fishermen protested a brutal change in the rules on fishing licenses in Jersey waters.
Until the post-Brexit agreement, the rules for French boats had been set under an agreement called the Treaty of Granville Bay signed in 2000 between Jersey and France.
“It was never correct, anyway because the French were giving French fishermen licenses to fish in Jersey waters,” Lebrun said, attributing this to “weak politicians” in Jersey.
“They had carte blanche to fish there ever since. And now, thanks to Brexit, that has changed, ”he said.
“We are supposed to have the right to say who does and who does not fish in our waters. “
The post-Brexit agreement signed in late December by London and Brussels allows French fishermen to cross an area of British waters offshore, rich in fish and less stormy, as long as they can prove they have done so in a recent past.
This area includes the waters off the Channel Islands, which are owned by the Crown but are self-governing and not part of the UK and therefore did not even vote in the Brexit referendum.
For Wayne Lowe, a 60-year-old local fisherman, the problematic factor is the large size of the French fishing fleet.
“Those who have fished with us for years would be OK, there must be a cap on the fleet somewhere,” he said.
– ‘Separate agreement’ –
During the demonstration, residents of Gouray, a village in the south-east of Jersey came to meet the French.
The mediator was Chris Le Masurier, oyster farmer and owner of a vessel used for freight, the Normandy Trader.
“What can work between France and Great Britain will not work here”, with the Normandy coast about 20 kilometers away, he insists.
“There absolutely has to be a separate agreement. “
“We need access to the European market to sell our products,” he added.
Due to recent tensions, Jersey fishermen have been warned not to take their catch to Norman ports “for two days”. This has now been tightened into an outright ban punishable by arrest.
“Without the French market, we have nothing,” Farnham said.
The father of two stressed how close French fishing ports are here.
As soon as the boats “leave port, they’re here” in Jersey waters, he said.
“In my opinion, they have as much right as we do to fish here. “
– “No London or Brussels” –
Farnham started fishing a year ago in an 11.5-meter inshore fishing boat, but his livelihood has since been affected by coronavirus restrictions and current tensions with France.
Since mid-December, Farnham has only made six trips to sell to individuals, he said, and he has to work on construction sites.
Another consequence of Brexit, the capture of a Jersey-based boat that lands in France must meet stricter health standards than the capture of a French boat.
“Their shells were harvested from ideal waters, but mine was not,” said Farnham.
” It’s ridiculous! “
To solve the problem, he tries to organize local talks, “so that they let us negotiate together our agreement with France, without London, without Brussels.
Fishing is “a great job. The sea is beautiful, ”he said.
But at the same time, he warns: “If this does not change in the coming months, I will have no choice: I will have to sell my boat. “
© 2021 AFP