Fishing fleet concerned after Jersey blockade

GUERNSEY fishermen have urged local authorities not to surrender their historic fishing rights, as Brexit found a frontline in Jersey yesterday with dozens of French fishing boats involved in a show of strength off St Helier.

French fishing boats blockading Jersey’s harbour yesterday in protest over fishing licensing regulations. Freight ship Commodore Goodwill was unable to leave the port. (Picture by David Ferguson, 29519458)
French fishing boats blockading Jersey’s harbour yesterday in protest over fishing licensing regulations. Freight ship Commodore Goodwill was unable to leave the port. (Picture by David Ferguson, 29519458)

By the afternoon the French flotilla which had blockaded the Jersey capital were returning to their home ports, while the discussions over post-Brexit fishing licenses were continuing.

Last night two Royal Navy boats, HMS Severn and HMS Tamar, remained off Jersey.

Dougal Lane, vice-president of the Guernsey Fishermen’s Association, was watching the situation.

He hoped that the Guernsey authorities, who are making steady progress with introducing the island’s new post-Brexit licence regime, would not give in to similar actions.

Making small sacrifices bit-by-bit as discussions continue ‘isn’t the right way forward from the industry’s point of view’, he said.

‘I agree with what Don Thompson, the president of Jersey’s Fishermen’s Association said, if we give in now, we give in forever, and we’ll never get it back.

‘The French kicked us out of their waters 30 years ago, we used to fish a lot in their waters and they kicked us out. Now the boot’s on the other foot they’re not so happy.’

Guernsey fishermen who unload their catch in France were concerned about warnings circulating last night to stay away for fear of more confrontation.

Yesterday’s blockade of St Helier was over Jersey’s new post-Brexit fishing regime which began last weekend.

The French argue that the licences have conditions that they had not been told about, and Guernsey fishermen fear the start of the local regime could cause a similar reaction, although Guernsey negotiators say relations with the French are ‘as good as it has ever been’.

Talks between Jersey and France are set to continue. It is understood that much of the dispute relates to 17 French vessels which have not provided full data to the Jersey authorities to secure a licence.

George Eustice, UK environment and food secretary, said licences would be issued on receipt of the data.

‘I think the threat that was made is completely disproportionate and unacceptable,’ he was quoted as saying yesterday.

Constitutional expert Advocate Gordon Dawes welcomed the UK’s involvement in the dispute as offshore patrol vessels from the Royal Navy maintained a presence in island waters.

‘I think sending the Royal Navy boats is appropriate, and in many respects it’s a surprisingly pleasant and welcome show of support from the United Kingdom,’ he said.

‘People have trivialised the UK defence obligation towards these islands, but who would have thought that Royal Navy warships would be deployed to Jersey, we thought that was all two centuries ago.

‘So it is welcome in that respect, but it does draw attention to this flashpoint.’

Commodore Goodwill, which brings in about 95% of the islands’ essential food, medicines and other supplies, beat the blockade early on Thursday morning. It entered St Helier at 4.30am but was delayed four hours by the French fleet before leaving for Guernsey at 11.15am, but Condor said disruption was ‘minimal’.

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