Jersey fishing row: What is it about and why is it so controversial?

6 May 2021, 18:19

Dozens of French fishing boats protested off the coast of Jersey on Thursday
Dozens of French fishing boats protested off the coast of Jersey on Thursday. Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Dozens of angry French boats spent Thursday protesting off the coast of Jersey amid a deepening row over post-Brexit fishing rights.

Around 60 vehicles turned up in the early hours of the morning to stop British trawlers from going out to sea.

They were met by royal navy vessels HMS Severn and HMS Tamar, which have been deployed by the UK Government to "monitor the situation", prompting France to send its own patrol boats.

But what is the row about and why is fishing such a controversial issue?

Fishing was a top issue during the EU Referendum in 2016
Fishing was a top issue during the EU Referendum in 2016. Picture: PA Images

What is the row about?

It erupted after the Jersey government said French fishing boats would be required to obtain a licence to fish in the island's waters under the terms of the UK's post-Brexit trade deal with the EU which came into force last week.

It caused anger in French fishing communities, which complained boats which had operated there for years were suddenly having access to the fisheries restricted.

Under new rules, French boats which want to fish in Jersey's waters need to prove they have history of previously working in the territory to keep operating.

Jersey's external relations minister, Ian Gorst, said that of the 41 boats which sought licences under the new rules last Friday, all but 17 had provided the evidence required.

On Wednesday, the UK and Jersey both hit out at "disproportionate" threats from a French government minister who suggested Jersey's power supply - 95% of which comes from France - could be cut off if the dispute is not resolved in the coming weeks.

The EU has also complained to Britain that the terms of its post-Brexit trade deal are being ignored, with French fishing boats facing "additional conditions" if they were to carry on operating - a breach of the terms of the agreement.

Why is fishing a controversial Brexit issue?

London and Brussels found fishing and control of the seas a sticking point during the Brexit negotiations.

The issue has symbolic significance in both the UK and the EU.

The industry is highly concentrated around fishing port towns on both sides of the Channel and any impact on the sector is felt most strongly in those areas.

When the Brexit deal was struck in December, the Government was accused of selling out the industry with the agreement which included a transition period allowing EU and UK fishing vessels access to each other's waters for another five years.

The transition period was cut to five-and-a-half years from the 14 years first demanded by the EU, and Brussels reduced its share of the quota by 25%.

The total number of fishers on UK registered boats was around 12,000 in 2019, according to a House of Commons Library briefing.

The UK and continental Europe have had a history of disputes over fishing
The UK and continental Europe have had a history of disputes over fishing. Picture: PA Images

Is this the first dispute the UK has had over fish?

Royal Navy boats were also deployed during the "cod wars" between the UK and Iceland - fishing rights disputes which ran from the 1950s until the 1970s.

The acrimonious and long-running feud saw violent clashes, with boats ramming into each other, the nets of trawlers cut, and the Navy sent out for protection.

The disputes effectively ended long-distance fishing by British trawlers.