Jersey row: fishing leader says French threats ‘close to act of war’

Don Thompson says response from France is ‘like something you would see from Iran or Russia’

France’s response to post-Brexit fishing restrictions around the island of Jersey has been described as “pretty close to an act of war” by fishing community leaders in St Helier. They say they have been told 100 boats are being lined up in France for a 6am blockade at the main Channel Island port on Thursday, threatening food and energy supplies.

“It was inevitable that the French would kick off,” said the head of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, Don Thompson. “But the reaction we’re seeing from France is almost like something you would see from Iran or Russia. They’re not just saying they can cut off the electricity supply, French fishermen are saying that they’re coming tomorrow [Thursday] to blockade the harbour in time to stop the ferries from coming in so there’ll be no food supply and no fuel coming into the island either. So it comes pretty close to an act of war, this.”

The French maritime minister hinted on Tuesday that France could cut off electricity supplies to Jersey in retaliation for restrictions the self-governing island has imposed on French vessels.

At the centre of the dispute is post-Brexit arrangements for the shared waters in the 13-mile stretch between France and Jersey. New licences were issued on Friday, the last day of a four-month grace period after Brexit, which ended the Granville Bay treaty on shared fishing rights which dates back to 1839.

Map

Thompson argues the treaty was flawed and “gave the French the authority to write their own access permits for waters, and consequently we’ve seen a decline in the primary shellfish stocks.” He said Brexit had given Jersey the authority to manage its own waters and for the first time it was exercising its legal right to apply conditions in line with sustainability goals.

But not everyone in the local fishing sector agrees. The island’s leading oyster and mussel fisherman, Chris Le Masurier, is scathing and says the problem is not Brexit but the local government’s “incompetent bunch of idiots”.

“I am so drained after this weekend because every French fisherman I know phoned me to complain,” he said. “I have been dealing with France for 30 years and I’ve learned there is a way to deal with our closest neighbour,” he told the local online news outlet Bailiwick Express. “It seems that the new licences were sent out Friday and then everyone ran out of the office. It was a complete insult to the French. It’s as if an apprentice who started on Friday has issued the licences. This has all been done in a pathetic way.”

At stake are just 70 French vessels fishing mainly shellfish including scallops, whelks and lobster. Jersey issued licences to the 41 French boats over 12 metres on Friday but French politicians claimed that without any notice they came with restrictions on the number of fishing days and the fishing equipment allowed.

One French national assembly member, Bertrand Sorre, said a fisher from Granville who fished for scallops and whelks “on average 40 days a year” in Jersey waters had been told he would have access for only 11 days. “The anger is roaring and the desire to do battle is palpable,” Sorre said.

Jean-Marc Julienne, the president of the House of Normandy and La Manche, Normandy’s representation in Jersey, said it was vital the dispute was resolved quickly.

“I am worried that the situation could get out of control,” he said, “and I don’t want it to get to that point because we know very well that after that it will be very hard to restart the negotiations.”

  • This article was amended on 6 May 2021 to clarify the date of the Granville Bay treaty

Contributor

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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