Jersey fishermen say they are suffering more than French from Brexit turmoil as trawler turned away by ‘mob’

Boat unable to offload catch in France because of quayside ‘bullies’ as tensions rumble on following Thursday’s St Helier blockade

Rory Sullivan
St Helier, Jersey
@RorySullivan92,Joe Sommerlad@JoeSommerlad
Friday 07 May 2021 17:14

French boats protest off Jersey over post-Brexit fishing rights

Jersey’s fishermen say they are suffering considerably more than their French counterparts in the ongoing row over fishing rights and claim their trawlers are being turned away from port by a “mob” of aggressors.

Following a day of high drama on Thursday when 60 French boats blockaded St Helier harbour, the fishermen allege that off the north coast of France a Jersey fisherman was harassed by French dockworkers.

Michael Michieli, who runs a trawler out of St Helier, told The Independent one of his colleagues had been unceremoniously dismissed from port by a hostile group.

The veteran fisherman said: “Jason tried yesterday and he was met by a load of bullies on top of the quay.

“He’d done all his paperwork. He had permission to land and at the bottom of the ladder he’s looking up and there’s this mob.”

The Independent reached out to the fisherman in question, who is keen to speak to the Jersey government about the problems facing fishing crews.

Another fisherman, Josh Dearing, said that Thursday’s protest had been “quite frightening” and that it had been “absolutely brilliant” to have two Royal Navy offshore patrol vessels, the HMS Severn and HMS Tamar, in place to monitor the situation.

“Looking out onto the horizon you could see loads of like lights from the vessels themselves, red flares as they were making their way down towards the St Helier harbour and it was just a mass of white lights really,” he said.

Earlier today, three French naval ships and a number of fishing boats were spotted on a marine tracking website just outside Jersey’s territorial waters.

Mr Michieli, who has fished in Jersey waters for 45 years, suggested that locals had it tougher than their French counterparts.

“They’re away fishing in our waters and are here jumping up and down, and we’re not allowed to go fishing because we can land nothing,” he said.

Don Thompson, president of Jersey’s Fishermen’s Association, agreed, saying it is Jersey fishermen who are really suffering from the impasse.

“The real hardship genuinely is on this side and I’m seeing my colleagues going out of business, fishermen that have done nothing else all their life, made a commitment to the industry since they were very young, having to sell their boats and walk away from the industry,” he said.

Mr Thompson has meanwhile called for a “show of good faith from France” amid diplomatic efforts to resolve the feud, which erupted a week after authorities in Jersey issued 41 new post-Brexit licences to French fishermen.

The latter claim the licences put unfair limits on where and when they can work and do not offer the same terms they enjoyed under the preceding 2000 Granville Bay Agreement, threatening their livelihood.

HMS Tamar patrolling the English Channel off St Helier

The new fishing rules brought in by the island’s government under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement now require French boats to prove they have a history of fishing in Jersey’s waters before they can be granted a permit, but the applicants complain that additional technical requirements were also added without prior notice.

Mr Thompson lamented the “pretty extreme threats” that have subsequently come from the south side of the English Channel, which included French maritime minister Annick Girardin suggesting earlier this week that Paris could cut off the island’s electricity supply, of which it supplies 95 per cent, if the dispute is not resolved.

“Our expectations were that things probably weren’t going to get out of hand, but on the other hand if you consider a government-level threat to sever electricity ties that would have meant hospitals being shut down” he said.

“In other parts of the world if something like that happened to Iran or Russia or other countries, other states, that would be considered almost an act of war.”

Authorities in Jersey have promised further talks to help resolve the row and pledged it will “absolutely not” lead to war, but the French government has hit out at what it considers to be the “British failure” to abide by the terms of the UK-EU trade deal and warned it would “use all the leverage at our disposal” to protect its own fishing industry.

The EU has likewise accused Jersey of breaching the deal signed by the UK and Brussels.

But, Mr Thompson argues: “Jersey people didn’t even vote, didn’t even have the right to vote in Brexit. Everything that’s happened here in the way that we’ve become a third world state is entirely by default.

“It’s really unfortunate that we seem to be coming under the spotlight and being accused of using the Brexit scenario to our advantage when actually the opposite is true.”

French fishing vessels staging their protest outside the harbour at St Helier

UK communities secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday night that efforts would be made to come to an agreement with Emmanuel Macron’s government and the EU.

“What we have done is make very clear to the French ministers who said some very unwise and disproportionate comments that we will stand with the people of Jersey,” the Cabinet minister said.

“This issue now needs to be resolved by diplomacy, by the chief minister and the ministers of Jersey - with the support of the UK government - working with their counterparts in France and the European Union.”

Mr Jenrick added: “We are going to ensure that this is sorted out as quickly as possible.”

Brexit minister Lord Frost likewise spoke to the French government on Thursday in the interests of breaking the deadlock.

Also speaking on Question Time was former House of Commons speaker John Bercow, who accused British prime minister Boris Johnson of engaging in an “absurd act of gunboat diplomacy” on the day of crucial local elections and dismissed the affair as “a bit of jingoistic sabre rattling”.

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