Guernsey crews head for Normandy again: Fish war poised for new flare-up

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THE FISH WAR between Britain and France looked likely to come to a head again this morning with Guernsey fishermen trying to land catches in Normandy for the first time since they were illegally refused last week.

Later today, two Royal Navy fishery protection vessels will stand by as boats from Normandy are given a last chance to remove illegally sited crab pots from the Schole Bank south of Alderney. There were fears that they may try to put down new pots.

Late last night, two boats from Guernsey, the Anne Thierry and the Corentine, were due to leave St Peter Port harbour to transport the week's catch of crab to France, aiming to unload their cargo at first light.

Fishmongers at ports along the Normandy coast, where the prices for some species are higher than in England, have been happy in principle to continue to buy the fish in recent days, but unwilling to risk the wrath of local fishermen who had imposed the ban on catches from the Channel Islands and England.

The two vessels were leaving Guernsey with tension growing between the Channel Islands and France. Some French fishermen spoke of blockading St Peter Port later this week.

Yesterday the French fishermen's association tried to contact Guernsey fishermen to ask for talks. But the atmosphere was still sour after the invasion of St Peter Port harbour by a Normandy flotilla on Monday.

John Gummer did a deal with French ministers at a meeting on 17 March, according to a letter to the Select Committee on European Legislation from David Curry, the Minister of State for Agriculture.

The Minister of Agriculture agreed to support the payment of pounds 8m in aid from the EC to French sheep farmers, in spite of a European Commission warning that it was 'incompatible with the common market'.

Britain could have vetoed the deal but Mr Gummer agreed to it following assurances from the French interior minister Paul Quiles that he would 'take steps to secure the free flow of goods, particularly fish'.

David Harris, chairman of the Tory backbench fisheries committee, said: 'I am absolutely astounded by it. Why on earth should we give approval to break Common Market rules for assurances by a French minister who was about to leave office?'