Fishermen make 'pact': Friendly overtures as British catch is unloaded in France

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The Independent Online
FRENCH and British fishermen maintained an uneasy truce yesterday as boats from England and the Channel Islands unloaded their catch in Cherbourg, France, without incident.

Last Friday, Normandy fishermen had warned their British counterparts not to go to French ports because of tensions over disputed fishing rights and the arrest of a French trawler skipper. Earlier in the week, British fish was turned away by buyers fearful of reprisals from French fishermen, who, under pressure from an embarrassed French Government, later officially agreed to stop taking action.

Yesterday, 13 boats from Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Dartmouth, Devon, unloaded shellfish to sell for the lucrative Easter trade, and French and British fishermen signed an informal friendship agreement. However, some French fishermen warned that there could be further trouble if the skipper of La Calypso, the Cherbourg trawler, is found guilty of fishing illegally in British waters.

Yesterday, Michel Mesnage, La Calypso's skipper, appeared at St Peter Port magistrates' court, charged with fishing illegally in territorial waters off Guernsey and with failing to comply with an order from a fisheries protection officer. He faces a maximum pounds 50,000 fine for the first offence and a maximum pounds 1,000 fine for the second.

Proceedings were slow, with translations between French and English, and are expected to continue today. Charges against Mr Mesnage, 40, follow an incident just over a week ago when three Royal Navy officers who boarded La Calypso were taken to Cherbourg.

The vessel was arrested on Friday when it was boarded by officers from HMS Jersey and escorted to St Peter Port. Mr Mesnage, who made his first court appearance on Saturday, denies the charges.

The disputes between French fishermen and British Naval Protection vessels stem from an agreement between the British and French governments last September recognising a six- mile limit around the Channel Islands.

While the British fishermen were in Cherbourg they met a delegation of their French counterparts and came to an informal friendship agreement. Signed by representatives of each Channel island and Cherbourg, the agreement was intended to be sent to the British Government asking it to clarify the fishing rights of the French and the Channel Islanders.

Mark Chadney, of the Alderney-based Le Squale, said: 'We were met by a delegation as we were about to leave. They wanted to air their grievances and we went with about 50 of them to have a chat.

'A paper was signed confirming the friendly relations between us and the French and calling on the Government to clarify the mess we are in.

'It's down to the politicians now to sort out the regulations and the fishing limits.' He added that the informal talks had been 'very friendly'.

(Photograph omitted)