French trade unions have said they will blockade Calais if their boats are not granted fishing licences for UK waters
Major French trade unions have backed their fishing industry telling the UK that they will blockade the port of Calais if their fishermen do not receive licences to fish in British waters.
The blockade on the important port in the north of France would cause severe disruptions for British exporters who have already been hit by a mountain of red tape, paperwork and higher exporting costs due to Brexit. A strike on Calais could cause a stoppage on between 7,500 and 8,500 trucks per day according to Politico.
As part of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the UK was to issue fishing licences to French fishers for the 6-12 nautical mile zone but many French boats have been refused a licence because they cannot prove a track-record of fishing UK waters from 2012 to 2016 using GPS data, a precondition for issuing the licence laid out in the TCA.
“All the fishermen agree that if we don’t receive a positive response, we will have to increase the pressure,” said Stéphane Pinto, of the CFTD, one of two unions to make the threat (the other being the CFTC). “We have to hit British exports to Calais, the tunnel and the ferry.”
“We were told we would get our licences within four to five days and we’ve been waiting four months, so giving them 15 days is enough,” he said.
“The promise of a deal we had has turned out to be a lie,” Pinto continued. “I don’t know who was deceitful, but we would have preferred a no-deal because at least we would have had the whole of the EU behind us trying to find a solution.”
The UK however says it has issued licenses to all the vessels that have met their criteria and has said the fishing protests were “unjustified.”
“We take an evidence-based approach to licensing fishing vessels using the information provided by the European Commission,” the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said, “we do not recognise the figures shared by the French fishing industry.”
The EU commission says only 20 EU applications for the access to British waters are still pending. “The Commission received and notified to the UK 108 requests for authorisation, out of which 88 have meanwhile received a licence. These 108 requests cover all relevant regions in France, not only Hauts-de-France [the Calais region],” a spokesperson for the Commission said.
On Thursday evening, 22 April, more than a hundred fishermen from Boulogne-sur-Mer were ready to block trucks coming from the UK carrying British caught fish, to protest against what they perceive as “the lie” of the post-Brexit agreement on access to English waters, an AFP journalist was informed.
A group planned to stay overnight in front of the veterinary and phytosanitary border inspection service (SIVEP), responsible for controlling all lorries entering France via Dunkirk and Calais from the United Kingdom with loads of fish and seafood.
“This night of action is a warning shot and if nothing happens at European level, then we will move up a gear,” warned the president of the Regional Fisheries Committee, Olivier Leprêtre.
According to him, the UK has only licensed 22 out of 120 boats to enter UK waters.
Earlier in the day, the Mayor of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Frédéric Cuvillier, gave them his support and called for a “leap” from the EU in support of European fishing harmed by Brexit.
With regard to the fisheries agreement between London and Brussels in the context of Brexit, “we were more in the appearance of an agreement than in an agreement itself (…) The cruel truth is that it was not “There is no fishing agreement,” he lamented in a press briefing the former Socialist Minister of Fisheries.
Despite “a sprinkling of a few fishing licenses granted” Mr. Cuvillier spoke of a “hopeless” situation.
“The British authorities are demanding from the French previous certificates of exploitation in their waters (…) Why does the European Union not ask for the reciprocal of anteriority for imports of English fish?” asked Leprêtre.
In a letter to the Minister of the Sea Annick Girardin, Mr Cuvillier, Jean-François Rapin, regional advisor and senator for Pas-de-Calais, and Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region, had already pointed out a threat weighing according to them on “the activity of the 850 fishers of Hauts-de-France and 5,000 jobs in the port”.
Fishermen in Boulogne-sur-Mer say they need access to British waters because the Channel is at its narrowest and busiest between France and the U.K.
“Profits have plunged since mid-January, fishermen here have lost 60 to 70 percent of their revenue,” says Leprêtre.
“The problems are only getting worse. We can’t access British waters, but neither can the Dutch nor the Belgians. And so they are pushed into French waters, which is putting a lot of pressure on our stocks,” concluded Leprêtre.