France will “not compromise” over alleged wrong treatment of its fishermen by Jersey, a French minister has said.
The statement by External Trade Minister Franck Riester came this morning after French fishermen who were protesting off the Jersey coast yesterday went home and the UK recalled naval vessels it had sent.
The immediate tension at the port of St Helier has ceased, however underlying problems remain despite assertions by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he is “pleased the situation in Jersey has been resolved”.
French fishermen say many who had expected their fishing licences for British waters around the island of Jersey to be renewed have been refused them and others who have had licences issued have seen unexpected new conditions and restrictions imposed.
Mr Riester toldSud Radio the decisions taken by the Jersey government, which is supported by the UK, are “null and void”.
He said: “We will not compromise, the law is very clear, the conventions must be respected… We are being very firm about this, but also obviously in a spirit of de-escalation [of tensions]; there’s no point in taking useless risks.”
The French government has stated that only 41 French ships were authorised to fish out of 344 applications and that there were new requirements that have not been subject to any discussions.
“The licences have been given in very insufficient numbers and with conditions that have not been explained and without consultation with the European authorities,” Mr Riester said. “It is in contradiction with what is in the Brexit cooperation deal.”
It comes as a Downing Street spokesman said the British navy remained on standby to provide any further assistance Jersey requests and Mr Johnson has said “the UK will always stand resolutely by the people of Jersey”.
As a British crown dependency, Jersey has its own government but is defended and represented internationally by the UK.
A French MEP, Marie-Pierre Védrenne, told France Bleu today (May 7) the EU could take sanctions against the UK over the issue.
“We are very worried and we are determined to give full support to our fishermen. Brexit is never ending and what we’ve noticed is that we are faced with a partner who lacks goodwill and doesn’t respect the promises they made.”
She added: “With my colleague Pierre Karleskind, who is president of the European Parliament’s fishing commission, we are mobilised to make sure that the European Commission reacts to this. What is at stake is to make the British understand that if they don’t respect their promises, we have the possibility, and political will, to impose reprisals or counter-measures, notably in economic terms.”
She did not rule out the extreme solution raised by Sea Minister Annick Girardin, of cutting off Jersey’s electricity supply, but said it would be better to start with, for example, imposing new customs duties and limiting access to EU markets.
“We have to show we are willing to go very far,” she said.
French government sources quoted by the BBC said they hoped the situation would be “swiftly resolved by the full and total implementation of the deal”, which France considered allowed continued access to UK waters for fishermen who had worked in them previously.
Jersey ministers have insisted they have respected the rules, and where licences have not been allocated it was because applications lacked sufficient paperwork proving rights.
Steph Noel, who has been fishing the waters off Jersey for almost four decades, could not see the point of chugging out to sea in his 8.5-metre boat, Belle Bird, this weekend.
“There’s no value in it for me,” he said. “It’ll cost me in bait and diesel but even if I have a good day there’s no market there for what I bring back.”
Noel, 52, last went out on Sunday and had a decent haul of lobster and crab but could not find a buyer for them and they remain – alive – tucked away in a floating container out at sea. “You can’t keep them there for too long, especially as the sea warms up. They’ll start eating each other. I don’t know what I’m going to do with them.”
The French fishers’ blockade of Jersey’s main port, St Helier, this week and the UK government’s decision to send two naval vessels to keep an eye on the situation made headlines across the globe. But people like Noel aren’t interested in the banner headlines. He just wants a market for his fish. The root of the problem, he says, is not the actions of a few French fishers but, ultimately, the UK’s departure from the EU.
Brexit has led to fishers across the UK struggling to find a market for their fish. They complain of excessive paperwork, delays at ports, rows over labelling. They did not get a vote on Brexit in Jersey, which is not part of the UK, but they are directly affected.
It is complicated but Noel summed it up succinctly. “Brexit has put a spanner in the works,” he said. “I have a mortgage to pay. If it isn’t sorted, I may lose the house. My wife [a civil servant] is having to support me. We were told frictionless trade for Jersey fish going into France, and it hasn’t happened. I don’t blame the French for protesting. They are just doing what we’re doing, trying to make a living out of the sea. We’re the piggy in the middle, caught up in the fallout.”
The tanks at the shellfish exporters Aqua-Mar on Victoria Pier tell a sad tale. They are heaving with lobster and brown and spider crab – about £40,000-worth.
One of the workers, Fernando Carvalho, said they usually kept the shellfish in the tanks for two or three days before exporting them. The creatures have been in there for up to 10 days now. The weaker ones die or are eaten.
“We’re struggling a lot,” said Carvalho. He said Brexit had led to “crazy” amounts of paperwork. “It used to take 15 or 20 minutes, it takes hours now.” They were starting to cope with that – but now have been hit by the loss of their route to the markets of continental Europe.
Previously, they had sent their lobsters and crabs to the French port of St Malo in Brittany, three hours away. French, Spanish and Portuguese buyers would meet them there and take what they needed. The rest would be driven by lorry to Italy.
Now they are not being allowed to land their catch in France and are desperately seeking another route, looking at the possibility of getting the lobster and crabs to continental Europe via England. “It used to take a few hours to get it there, it will take days now,” said Carvalho. “We don’t know how to do what we used to do. All this is because of Brexit and we didn’t even get a say in it.”
Jack Bailey, 24, the skipper of the 10-metre lobster and crab boat White Waters, said there was not a lot of money to be made from fishing at the moment.
“My grandad was a fisherman, my dad was a fisherman. It’s in the family. I’ve started to think to myself, would I have been better off staying at school and getting a trade behind me. It’s a sticky one.”
He reckons the profit from his catches has been down 30% this year on the average for the last few. That’s a big chunk of your money,” he said. “I’m just about covering my costs.
“I haven’t landed this year in France. Last year, it was once every seven or 10 days. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen. I wasn’t for Brexit but now I’d like France to exit the EU – then Jersey and France would be able to work it out themselves. I just hope there is a fishing industry left after this.”
While the French boats were blockading St Helier harbour, the Jersey fisher Jason Bonhomme tried to land a catch of cuttlefish over at Carteret in Normandy.
He was prevented from landing and forced to turn back. He gave away the whole catch – 400kg – on St Catherine’s breakwater after posting a message on social media inviting people to bring bags and buckets and take it away for free. “Shame to see it spoil,” he said.
Stephen Vinney, 54, who owns a boat called Progress, expressed frustration that it is the French rather than Jersey fishers who have been making the headlines.
“We’re suffering far more than they are,” he said. “They have EU subsidy given to take the sting out of Brexit. Jersey has had nothing in support.”
As well as fishing for crabs and lobster, one of Vinney’s key catches is scallop. “Our scallop season should be in full flight,” he said. “It’s not.”
“Because of the UK leaving the EU, our scallops and whelks, which are a big part of our fishery, can’t be landed into France directly. They need testing and health certificates. At the same time, French fleets are putting more effort into our waters than they have for years, catching the same scallops out of our waters and landing them into France. They can dig my spuds in my garden but I can’t.”
He argued that the island was effectively a post-Brexit test case. “Jersey is being used as a guinea pig in imposing the licensing regime on the French. Eyes are on Jersey and Boris [Johnson] is putting pressure on Jersey to stand firm.”
Vinney is worried about the future. “It’s not a job; it’s a way of life. A lot of Jersey boats have sold up. We are losing fishermen we won’t get back into the fleet. We are getting squeezed out.”
Toby Greatbatch, 31, has stopped working as a fisher after 13 years. He has a nine-month-old baby and could no longer be sure the work was there to support the child.
He was preparing scallops he had hand-dived for off the east coast of Jersey and tipping live brown crab he had bought from another fisher into a boiler. He sells the scallops and crab meat at a market stall.
“Brexit and Covid has made it too difficult to be a fisherman,” he said. “When you can’t export it, there’s no point in catching it. I think I’ve found my niche doing this and can’t see myself going back to it.”
Plans for Buckinghamshire’s first ever ‘freight zone’ to control the movement of HGVs in and around the Ivinghoe area take a step closer today (May 7) with the start of a four-week public consultation on the detail of the legal traffic regulation order.
Proposed for the areas around Ivinghoe, Cheddington and Mentmore, the zone sits within defined boundaries, east of the A418, north of the A41 and west of the B489, and follows two years of research, monitoring, discussions, public engagement and detailed planning with the local community.
The traffic regulation order (TRO) proposes a 7.5 tonne weight limit on vehicles travelling through the zone, however, there will be an exception for vehicles travelling to destinations within the zone. This means deliveries and collections to local homes and businesses can continue unaffected.
Lorry at Brownlow Bridge near Ivinghoe
Monitoring in November 2019 showed an average of 254 HGVs per week passed through the proposed zone, heading for destinations further afield, nearly half (47%) of the total HGV traffic in the area.
Buckinghamshire Council’s Corporate Director for Planning, Growth and Sustainability, Ian Thompson said that the zone would bring benefits to the community and encouraged people to take part in the consultation and give their views.
“A zone like this can clearly reduce the level of traffic by removing a significant number of HGVs that simply pass through the area. The TRO will help reduce the negative impacts on local residents, buildings and the environment, while of course still allowing local lorry deliveries to be made.
“Over the next four weeks, we want to hear from anyone who might be affected to give their views on the detail of the proposed TRO to help us finalise arrangements.”
Mr Thompson added: “Subject to the feedback received, the scheme could be fully operational later in the year which would be great news for everyone.”
Public engagement on the concept of the freight zone took place early last year and was widely supported by local residents, businesses and community groups. It included dialogue with parish councils, local councillors and businesses, along with exhibitions and a survey which received 332 responses.
Alternatively you can email comments to [email protected] or by writing to: Ivinghoe Freight Zone Consultation, Design Services, Transport for Bucks, Aylesbury Vale Area Office, Corrib Industrial Park, Griffin Lane, Aylesbury, HP19 8BP. The consultation closes on June 3.
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