Jersey’s decision to turn down dozens of applications for licences to fish in its territorial waters was met with anger and outrage across the Channel as the French government accused the island of “totally unacceptable and inadmissible” conduct.
Paris warned it could seek “retaliatory measures” by the EU in the latest flare-up with the UK over post-Brexit fishing rights.
It followed the announcement by the Jersey Government that of 170 licence applications it had received from French boats, 75 had been rejected.
It said 64 boats had their applications approved while a further 31 had been granted temporary licences to allow them more time to prove they have a track record of fishing in Jersey waters in line with the UK’s trade deal with the EU.
Those boats which were not granted a licence were being given 30 days’ notice that the existing transitional arrangements were ending, after which they would no longer be allowed access to the island’s waters.
French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said: “These decisions are totally unacceptable and inadmissible.”
He said the ruling ran counter to the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA) which Britain signed with the EU and that France would seek support from Brussel for potential “retaliatory measures”.
The French were already furious after the Government in London announced yesterday that it had approved just 12 of the 47 applications it had received from French small boats to fish in British waters.
The French maritime minister Annick Girardin said she would be holding talks with fishing industry representatives to formulate a response.
“It is a new refusal of the British to apply the conditions of the Brexit accord despite all the work undertaken together,” she said.
French fishing must not be taken hostage by the British for political ends.
The wrangling between the two sides over the issue of fishing rights has been continuing for months.
In May, the French threatened to cut off power supplies to Jersey – which gets 95 per cent electricity from France – while dozens of French boats surrounded the island’s main port, St Helier, in protest.
The latest row – which comes at a time when UK relations with France are already at a low ebb – prompted fears of a further similar response.
Paris was furious after Australia announced earlier this month that it was cancelling an order for French submarines following a new defence pact with Britain and the US.
Jersey’s external relations minister Ian Gorst defended the way the licences had been awarded saying they had adopted “a pragmatic, reasonable and evidence-based approach”.
He said the island authorities had already extended the transitional arrangements on a number of occasions even though they were not required to do so under the TCA.
“We’re now in a position to ensure those boats which have fished these waters are able to continue doing so, and therefore it is time, next month, for our transitional arrangements to come to a close,” he said.
“We will continue to have an open door to further data and evidence of fishing activity, including for vessels which have already been considered, and we look forward to working collaboratively to resolve the remaining complex issues.”
Environment minister John Young said the measures were designed to ensure “the fishing effort in our waters is similar to pre-Brexit”.
“Those boats with an economic dependence on Jersey waters, who’ve fished here regularly before and have demonstrated it, will receive licences,” he said.