The NFFO has called the French blockade of St Helier as a somewhat hysterical political over-reaction. Photo: Peter Rondel
The blockade of St Helier by French fishing vessels and the somewhat hysterical political over-reaction that has included threats to cut off electricity supplies to the island, will hopefully pass without further escalation, when calmer heads are engaged, writes the NFFO
Trade and Cooperation Agreement
The wider issue is that the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, concluded towards the end of last year, includes elements that are now only being properly understood – by both sides – as the terms of the agreement are applied. How the fishing of non-quota species is managed through tonnage limits is an entirely new area in which the implications of the TCA are being slowly understood and worked out. Another is the scope that the UK has to apply its own management measure within the UK EEZ.
Clearly the French fishing industry hadn’t appreciated that the phrase regulatory autonomy used in the TCA means that both the EU and the UK (and by extension the Jersey authorities) have new powers to apply management measures in their own waters – as long as those are genuine management measures, informed by science and are not discriminatory. The measures applied by the Jersey authorities appear to be entirely consistent with the TCA and have been introduced for sound management reasons. More widely, it is likely that the UK (and its constituent parts) will over time, progressively diverge from the Common Fisheries Policy as it develops and applies tailored management measures.
There are several elements to the Jersey dispute:
- EU vessels fishing within UK (and Jersey) waters now require a UK (or Jersey) licence; vessels are only eligible for a licence if they can meet qualifying criteria, mainly that they can demonstrate activity in those areas during the reference period. Some vessels have submitted that proof and been issued a licence; some haven’t and will not be issued a licence until they do.
- There is an associated issue related to replacement vessel; it cannot make sense to allow a vessel of 80 metres replace a vessel of 8 meters. Discussions between the UK and the EU continue on how appropriate safeguards should be expressed
- Conditions attached to licences are one of the main methods through which fisheries are managed. New licence conditions for vessels operating within Jersey waters seem to be one of the complaints raised by the French industry but as long as these are applied for fisheries management reasons and apply equally to all vessels operating in that area, they are both legitimate and consistent with the TCA
- Gear restrictions and seasonal closures, likewise, are legitimate management measures, if they are evenly applied.
The unique constitutional arrangements which apply to Jersey and the other Channel Islands mean that Jersey has independent authority to manage its fisheries. Perhaps better communications on both sides could have helped reduce frictions before they arose but the bottom line is that the French are fundamentally unhappy that the world has changed in ways that they do not like. One can sympathise, whilst still recognising that some level of adjustment was always going to be on the cards as the UK left the Common Fisheries Policy, even under the umbrella of the highly contentious and imperfect Trade and Cooperation Agreement.