SAINT HELIER, Jersey: Fishermen on Jersey are voicing concerns at repeated delays to post-Brexit arrangements for fishing rights, as the latest deadline looms for EU access to waters around the British Crown dependency. Jersey, home to more than 100,000 people, is the largest of the Channel Islands, and on a clear day, lies within sight of the French coast. Like Guernsey to its northwest, the self-governing territory is not part of the United Kingdom and its people did not vote in the 2016 Brexit referendum.
But both still depend on the UK for defense and international relations, drawing them into the country's tortuous full departure from the European Union in January. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed that London will "take back control" of fisheries policy, among other things, but nine months on, Jersey's fishermen are still waiting to see the promised reduced EU access to their waters, as promised in the Brexit deal. Tim Corson, a small boat fisherman who sells his lobster catch in France, is unhappy at shifting deadlines for his European competitors to get licenses to fish off Jersey. "It's just getting delayed, delayed, delayed," the red-bearded 28-year-old told AFP. "They're extending it again, but what's going to happen when that runs out?"
France has asked the UK to issue 169 fishing licenses to its vessels but they must prove they fished in Channel Island waters before Brexit-and many are struggling to do so. An initial deadline for applications ended on June 30, triggering stormy protests by French fisherman that threatened to turn into a full-blown naval incident. As French trawlers steamed towards the capital Saint Helier, London sent two naval patrol boats to monitor the situation, prompting Paris to respond in kind.
In a bid to calm tempers, a three-month extension was agreed and is set to expire on Thursday. Jersey's government said last Friday that some French vessels had provided enough evidence they had previously fished off the island. Others still needed to submit more information and will only be granted a temporary permit until January 31 next year.
A third grouping will be refused licenses altogether and must stop fishing in UK waters. How many French boats are in which category will be unveiled in the coming days, prompting fresh fears on Jersey it could spark renewed protests. "We are running out of patience, the fishermen too, legitimately," France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune said last week.
'Tough few years'
In the small port of Gorey, dominated by green hills and a 13th-century castle, Corson said Brexit had made things "more difficult" as fishermen feared French reprisals over market access. "If we lose our market, it's going to be a tough few years for us until we sort something out," he added, shifting big bags of bait bought in France after selling his catch there. The Jersey fleet, some 100 small boats that fish mostly during the day, exports lobsters, crabs and scallops to Europe via French ports.
But France has said it is ready to activate "restrictive measures" if it disagrees with the allocation of licenses, which Jersey's fishermen say puts their future at risk. "The problem with the big fishing boats, they can fish in any weather and the small boats can't, so they are continuously fishing when we have to stop because we are generally all day boats," said Chris Casey in Saint Helier. Casey, 62, catches sea bass individually on the line from his six-metre (20-foot) boat, a practice called "singling" that he said is more sustainable and offers traceability through tags clipped to the fishes' gills.
Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen's Association, was initially optimistic about Brexit but now feels "quite disappointed with the outcome". "(It) was a chance to rebalance, to see some sort of equilibrium between the size of the Jersey fleet and the number of foreign boats working in our waters," he said. Thompson noted if nearly 169 French vessels are licensed, that would far outnumber the local fleet, claiming that only around 70 of them had previously fished in the area.
"The sustainability of our stock right now, this is not the best. It can't take any more pressure," added Stephen Viney, 54. "If we bring up extra boats into the area, you'll end up with more and more pressure and everybody will lose because the restrictions will come in. "The ones that are entitled, who have got track record of fishing here traditionally... nobody's got a problem with them." - AFP