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France urged Brussels to step up pressure on the UK over fishing rights as it warned of growing frustration among its fishermen and the risk of further unrest following the blockade of Jersey this year.
Jean Castex, the French Prime Minister, urged European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to consider using other economic levers to push the UK to a compromise on fisheries, in a letter sent this month. here and seen by the Financial Times.
The dispute between the UK and France concerns access to Channel waters for fishermen based on the Normandy coast, who say they have worked in the region for years and now face unreasonable restrictions.
The two sides failed to settle the methodology by which French vessels can establish their rights to licenses to continue to use the waters, before the September 30 deadline.
British officials argued that authorities were not seeking to obstruct, but that French fishermen were not providing data of sufficient quality to back up their claims.
French vessels must prove that they have already operated in Jersey waters between 2017 and 2020 in order to be eligible for fishing licenses under the terms of the fishing agreement which was part of the EU trade and cooperation agreement. -United Kingdom concluded in December 2020.
Paris also accused Jersey of having imposed “new technical measures” on French boats which effectively excluded them from fishing. Jersey said the measures were designed to ensure the sustainability of the island’s fishing grounds.
Last May, the UK sent Royal Navy ships to patrol the waters off Jersey as more than 50 French fishing boats converged on St Helier harbor to protest the management of fishing rights by the island.
A sign that fishing rights may arouse political emotions in France, the country’s Minister of Maritime Affairs, Annick Girardin, has threatened to cut off the supply of electricity to Jersey which is supplied by an undersea cable from France.
“I would regret it if we succeeded,” she said when questioned at the height of the conflict last May by members of the French National Assembly, but “we will if we have to. “.
The politically combustible subject of fishing rights is particularly sensitive given the French presidential elections next April.
In his letter, Castex warned of the growing weariness and frustration of fishermen in his country, saying the UK did not appear to abide by the spirit in which the deal was negotiated, “nor the letter in which it was drafted, nor the objectives for which it was signed â.
GÃ©rard Romiti, president of the French National Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture, said the fishermen âfeel like they have been played in these discussions – they have gathered so much information and answered all the questions that the authorities asked, over a period of months and months â. .
“And yet, we still see no progress in these technical talks, with the temporary authorizations due to expire at the end of this month,” he added.
However, Ian Gorst, Jersey’s foreign affairs minister, said he believed “good progress” was being made in licensing qualified vessels, and an announcement was expected shortly.
“As was the case in May this year, the Jersey government fully respects the rights of French fishermen to demonstrate peacefully over the fishing licenses issued under the new trade and cooperation agreement,” he said. he adds.
The European Commission has said it is urging UK authorities to quickly issue authorizations to fishermen, especially with the temporary arrangements around the Channel Islands ending on September 30.
“This will ensure the continuity of the fishing activities of the European fishermen concerned,” he said. âWe reminded the UK authorities to implement what had been agreed. At present, we have provided all relevant evidence to the UK authorities. “
A spokesperson for Defra, the UK agriculture department responsible for fisheries, said he was aware of the protests planned by French fishermen, but the UK was taking a “consistent and evidence-based approach. evidence “to authorize EU vessels in UK waters.
âJersey and Guernsey have also shown flexibility in allowing continued access to EU vessels while evidence is gathered and licensing decisions are made. We continue to engage with the European Commission and the French government and hope to be able to communicate decisions on other licenses in the near future, âthey added.