NFFO claims the French Government’s dispute with the UK over the issuing of fishing licences has seen fishers caught up in domestic politics
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) has said that it is simply not possible to satisfactorily explain the current turbulence between the UK and France over licences in fishing terms alone.
The NFFO believe that the fishing industry on both sides of the English Channel is caught up in French domestic politics as outgoing President Emmanuel Macron postures to his public in an effort to secure another term in office.
The say, “The French prime minister’s letter to European Commission president urging that the UK had to be shown that it “causes more damage to leave the EU than to stay in,” may go some way to explain the matter, but it is probably not a view that is shared by all member states. Macron’s shaky position in the forthcoming French presidential election also helps to explain the remarkable belligerence of the rhetoric emanating from the French government over what is essentially a minor technical issue.”
The NFFO calls the action by the French authorities ‘aggressive’ and ‘without justification’ and believe that their position is not one held by the entire EU.
“Meeting eligibility criteria for EU vessels to fish within the UK 6-12m follows from the TCA which limits this right to vessels that can demonstrate that they have fished there historically. Most licences have been granted. Our understanding is that the UK’s methodology is accepted by the EU as being both fair and robust. In any event, there is absolutely no justification for the aggressive threats being made by the French Government, or for instigating criminal proceedings against a UK scalloper, for what appears to be some kind of administrative slip. This is a matter that in normal times cooperating countries sort out with a phone call.”
On the ground the issue is gauged differently, says the NFFO. They believe their colleagues in France do not have the same appetite for a war like their government and are like themselves realistic abut the damage it would cause to the fishers in both the UK and France.
They say, “The president of the Boulogne-sur-Mer fish processing industry got it exactly right when he said that we will all be hurt if this relatively trivial issue escalates into a trade war or tit-for- tat enforcement. Behind the diplomatic rhetoric there are those in the French fishing industry and fish trade that resent the political posturing and being used as a political battering ram in this way. There are businesses on both sides of the channel which depend on the supply of fish and shellfish from the UK for their economic survival. Artificial barriers to trade would hurt everyone. Likewise, should enforcement at sea descend into a tit-for-tat zero tolerance regime, French fishing vessels, by sheer weight of numbers fishing in UK waters, have more to fear than most. This is not a path anyone in the fishing industry on either side should want to go down.”
The NFFO say that the who debacle over the issuing of fishing licences to French boats for UK waters is merely domestic politics:
“The reasons why the French Government has deliberately escalated what is essentially a technical issue about licences to a level of belligerence that requires the French Ambassador to be summoned to the Foreign Office lie primarily in French domestic politics. Ahead of elections in a matter of months President Macron’s political future is far from secure. Manufactured tensions with a customary foe (and occasional ally) have been the age-old resort of the demagogue to demonstrate steely national resolve. If it wasn’t fishing rights, it would be something else.”
The NFFO finds the fault in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and say that fishers on both sides have not got what they believed they were being sold:
“The Trade and Cooperation Agreement agreed on Christmas Eve was a massive disappointment for the UK fishing industry which had been led to believe in a future as a genuinely independent coastal state. The TCA, however, was sold to the French fishing industry as maintenance of the status quo, when it was not. Access to fish in UK waters had been secured for five years, including within the UK 6–12-mile limit, and quota shares had only changed for France at the margin. But the UK is no longer part of the Common Fisheries Policy and that carries significant implications. The TCA recognises the right of both parties to manage fishing activities in their respective EEZs. The TCA also grants access to the UK’s inshore waters – but only to vessels that can demonstrate that they had fished there historically. 98% of licence applications for EU vessels to fish in UK waters have been granted and by all accounts the UK and EU have worked constructively together on the evidence methodology to justify applications. Some French vessels may have had a theoretical right to fish in UK waters but did not exercise that right during the reference period. Limiting access to fish is one of the foundation stones of sound fisheries management and these kinds of issues arise in domestic fisheries management too.
“If our domestic experience is anything to go by, there will be a few difficult threshold cases but there will also be opportunists who try to slip under the bar. All that needs to be sorted out and our understanding is that the residual issues are being dealt with appropriately – at the technical level. Hijacking the issue to send crude political signals is both a sign of political desperation and is potentially very damaging for fishers and fish traders on both sides of the Channel.”
There says there is a legal and moral obligation to work collaboratively to ensure sustainable exploitation of those important resources, and for this requires adjustment and maturity. They say:
“The shift from the UK as a member state to an independent coastal state was never going to be easy or straightforward. The first annual negotiations between the UK and the EU took several months and were undeniably difficult as the UK asserted its autonomy and the EU did all it could to place limits and constraints around that autonomy. The hope is that the negotiations for fisheries agreements in 2022 will run a lot smoother. The geo-political reality is that whatever stresses and strains are generated during this adjustment, the UK and EU (including France) share contiguous waters and hundreds of fish stocks. There is a legal and moral obligation to work collaboratively to ensure sustainable exploitation of those important resources. Political posturing may from time to time get in the way of the responsible, mature, pragmatic, relationship that is required to deliver on these obligations, but they can only be allowed to be a temporary spasm.”