Argument over fishing licences brings three naval vessels to Jersey

HMS Severn and HMS Tamar are patrolling waters around Jersey as about 80 French boats mount a protest over post-Brexit fishing rights. The fishing boats blocked St Helier Harbour’s entrance early this morning, unblocked it to allow the Commodore Goodwill freight ship to pass, and are – according to a tweet from the Jersey Evening Post – heading back again as they’re ‘frustrated’ that no Government of Jersey representative has come to speak to them.

French authorities have confirmed to Sky News that a patrol vessel, military ops ship Athos, will be arriving ‘imminently’ to carry out a patrol mission.

French fishermen are complaining about being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences, according to the BBC.

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 claims have been made that unexpected additional requirements were added to the licence requirement without notice, which means some French fishing vessels have been cut off.

Jersey has the sole power to issue the licences, and as of last week all fishing boats were required to have a licence to operate there.

The Jersey government has granted 41 permits to French fishing vessels that are equipped with technology that allows them to be located.

But French authorities say the ‘new technical measures’ for fishing off the Channel Islands had not been communicated to the EU. Thus, the unlicensed French fishermen currently at St Helier say their rights are unfairly restricted.

Their boats are draped with makeshift banners – which read ‘en colère’ (we are angry) – says BBC Europe correspondent Jean Mackenzie, who was with the fishermen as they set off from the French coast.

A handful left this small port on the Normandy coast about 02:30, to be joined by dozens more on the way to Jersey. The fishermen seemed more shocked than angry, that their access to waters they have fished in for decades is being challenged, says the BBC.

No 10 says it sent the two Royal Navy vessels, which arrived this morning (6May21), to ‘monitor the situation’. This comes after the government quietly doubled the number of patrol vessels from four to eight to help protect fishing waters post-Brexit, as reported in Marine Industry News.

HMS Severn, which has previously been used to shadow Russian navy warships off the English coast, and HMS Tamar, are routinely used for fisheries protection (and jet suit exercises) – with sailors able to board other boats for spot checks.

The deployment is to ‘guarantee the safety’ of people at sea and ‘accompany’ the flotilla of French fishing vessels currently protesting off St Helier over a lack of access to waters around the Channel island.

Chris Le Masurier, who runs Jersey Oyster and Normandy Trader Freight, told the BBC the French fisherman were rightly upset by the situation.

“I see it as very much an insult to them 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.”

But Don Thompson, from the Jersey Fisherman’s Association, says affected French crews have ‘had since 1 January’ to comply with the new rules and “perhaps some of the boats that perhaps didn’t qualify are a little bit put-out”.

France has threatened to cut off electricity to the island, 95% of which is delivered by three underwater cables from France.

The threat was made by French maritime minister Annick Girardin.

“I am sorry it has come to this [but] we will do so if we have to,” she says.

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