French trawler owners still in dark over U.K.-French fishing
French trawler owners in Normandy have reacted with confusion and consternation after President Emmanuel Macron extended a Tuesday deadline by two days amid a post-Brexit fishing spat with Britain.
Macron said that the U.K. now has until Thursday to license more French vessels to fish in U.K. waters or face consequences. France has threatened to bar British boats from some of its ports and tighten checks on boats and trucks carrying British goods if no solution is found. Paris has also suggested it might restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands, which are heavily dependent on French electricity.
“We don’t know what to expect. We learn new things every day,” said trawler owner Samuel Deshayes in Granville, in the northwestern region of Normandy. “We will not give up until everyone has obtained a license.”
He said he felt there was a level of dishonesty on the part of the British.
Many French fishermen are pointing fingers specifically at the Channel Islands, including Jersey and Guernsey, which are self-governing British crown dependencies that crucially have control over their own territorial waters. France has suggested that Jersey, which is only 14 miles (about 22 kilometers) off the coast of France, hasn’t issued enough licenses to French vessels.
“Jersey — I don’t know why there are causing problems. Even the English don’t quite understand why Jersey is resisting,” Deshayes added.
The government of Jersey has reacted by issuing 49 temporary licenses to French boats. It said the vessels will be able to fish in Jersey waters until Jan. 31 to “grant time” for further data that is necessary for it to issue permanent licenses.
Emmanuel Lecoufle, owner of French trawler Arc en Ciel in Granville, said that issuing such few permits won’t change much.
“It is not enough. There are still 200 boats pending. It is nothing at all 49 licenses,” he said.
Meanwhile, those French trawler owners who have been granted an extended license still don’t understand what will happen on the waters.
Macron’s office said Monday that talks would continue this week and no measures would be taken before a key meeting Thursday.
The British government has said throughout the long-running dispute that it isn’t engaged in a negotiation, and it is entirely up to France to end the conflict, which centers on fishing licenses in the English Channel. The spat has turned into a big sticking point in European Union-Britain relations after the U.K. left the bloc.
The British government welcomed France’s move to delay its ultimatum.
“As we have said consistently, we are ready to continue intensive discussions on fisheries, including considering any new evidence to support the remaining license applications,” the U.K. government said in a statement. “We welcome France’s acknowledgement that in-depth discussions are needed to resolve the range of difficulties in the U.K.-EU relationship.”
The two countries said Britain’s Brexit minister, David Frost, and French Europe Minister Clement Beaune would hold talks in Paris on Thursday.
The fishing spat has escalated into a major U.K.-French dispute, with both sides accusing each other of contravening the Brexit trade deal that the U.K. signed when it left the EU.
Paris says authorities in the Channel Islands and Britain have denied permits to French boats that have fished in waters where they have long sailed, scooping up lobster, sea snails, sea bream and other fish from the English Channel. Britain says it has granted 98% of applications from EU vessels, a proportion that French authorities have questioned.
Britain says a few dozen boats haven’t been given permits because they haven’t shown the required paperwork to back up their applications.
Fishing is a tiny industry economically, but one that looms large symbolically for both Britain and France, which have long and cherished maritime traditions. Since the start of the year, both sides have control of their waters, subject to the post-Brexit trade deal.
Thomas Adamson contributed to this report from Paris.