The French Senate has denounced plans for a “fleet exit plan” as surrender but Minister for the Sea, Annick Girardin has defended the government’s decision saying that it is only a contingency plan for the remaining French fishing vessels who cannot obtain a licence for UK waters.
The UK fishing licence would allow French vessels who had previously fished in the 6-12nm zone around the Channel Islands to continue to do so as agreed under the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
On Thursday, 19 November, Girardin announced at a meeting with fishermen and fishing representatives in Finistére, that the French Government had set aside €40 million to €60 million in a compensation scheme for those fishers who were being forced to remain in port due to the loss of licences.
Both fishermen and their representatives met news of the scheme with anger and frustration, claiming that their government had thrown in the towel.
Even the President of the Brittany regional council, Loig Chesnais-Girard, weighed in saying, “I cannot accept that we start a massive move to destroy boats.”
French Secretary for European Affairs, Clement Beaune and Girardin have since tried to quell the anger by promising fishermen that the scheme is a last resort, and they are still in conversation with the UK over granting the remaining 150 fishing licences to the excluded French boats.
On the other side of the English Channel, the UK Government says that it will only grant licences to EU/French vessels that can prove a track record of fishing in UK waters and in the British territorial waters of the Channel Islands. The French have argued that this requirement is impossible for the remainder of the excluded fleet as they are small fishing boats that have never been required to carry electronic tracking equipment or logbooks.
The French had threatened retaliatory measures against the UK and Jersey Island Governments at the start of November but that has since passed. On 01 November the Jersey Government issued 49 temporary licences to French vessels in an attempt to avoid their own boats being blocked from landing catches in French ports. Afterwards, the France and UK entered into dialogue on the issue, but since then no progress has been made. The French Government insist that retaliatory measures remain on the table, but the French Senate has now stepped into the argument saying they believe that the Government is waving the white flag on the issue.
In a statement released on Monday, 22 November, the Senate writes:
“At the unexpected announcement by the French authorities of a “fleet exit plan” (PSF) – with compensation, instead of the retaliatory measures announced – the senators expressed their dismay and astonishment.
“Indeed, during their hearing on June 17, 2021 in the Senate, Ms. Annick Girardin, Minister of the Sea, and Mr. Clément Beaune, Secretary of State for European Affairs, emphasized the great firmness of the Government’s support for fishermen. French, so that the latter can continue to access British waters and thus continue their activity.
“Six months later, the stalemate remains with the United Kingdom, with a particularly acute dimension of conflict in the case of the island of Jersey. Have the British won their showdown with the French authorities?
“This compensation for professionals who do not obtain a license to fish around Jersey actually amounts to accepting a reduction that does not speak for itself in the number of French vessels in activity, while the common fisheries policy guarantees sustainable fishing. Will 40 to 60 million euros be enough to buy back this disastrous signal sent to French fishermen?
“The Senate European Affairs Committee and its Economic Affairs Committee, to which the “Fisheries and Seafood” study group is attached, deplore the fact that the commitments made by the French Government have not been kept. It is the French fishermen who will unfortunately bear the brunt of this sad renunciation, the repercussions of which will in no way be limited to the Anglo-Norman fishing zones.”
In response to the statement, Annick Girardin tweeted, “No, the @gouvernementFR did not “let go of the French fishermen”. Stop caricature and place unity. I presented the support mechanisms in case the negotiations do not succeed, including the withdrawal from the fleet. As Minister, my role is to plan.”
Elsewhere, the French Government is reported to have told the EU Commission to notify the UK that it has until 10 December 2021 to resolve the dispute.
Since January 01, 2021, France has obtained “more than 960 licenses” for fishing in British waters and the Channel Islands, but Paris is still asking for more than 150 authorisations claimed by the French Ministry for the Sea.
According to an EU spokesperson, on Wednesday the EU Commission asked London to settle the post-Brexit dispute over fishing licenses with France by December 10.
“Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius (Environment and Fisheries) spoke today with (British) Minister George Eustice and insisted that disputes over fishing licenses be concluded by 10/12/2021”, said the spokesperson.
“Regarding the replacement vessels and the waters of Guernsey, work is continuing to find a solution by the end of the month,” he said.
France raised the tone and asked the Commission to be “more active” to settle this dispute.
“The space for dialogue must have a deadline and this deadline the Commission must give to the United Kingdom”, declared the French Minister for the Sea, Annick Girardin.
By Oliver McBride