Call for ‘show of good faith’ from France over Jersey fishing dispute
A Jersey fishing leader has called for a “show of good faith” from France after dozens of French vessels descended on the island’s capital on Thursday.
The hours-long protest saw about 60 boats approach the port of St Helier in an escalation of a row over post-Brexit fishing rights, while two Royal Navy warships monitored the situation.
The UK Government says it will now work with France and Jersey to resolve the dispute before it escalates further.
The push for a diplomatic solution comes as a Jersey fisherman was unable to land his fresh catch in France on Thursday after reportedly being “intimidated and harassed”.
Meanwhile Jersey’s head of government, Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondre, said the “very good discussion” with representatives from the protesters had highlighted many issues that can be “very easily resolved”.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Don Thompson, president of Jersey Fishermen’s Association, said the incident followed “some pretty extreme threats” from the French.
“Our expectations were that things probably weren’t going to get out of hand, but on the other hand if you consider a Government-level threat to sever electricity ties that would have meant hospitals being shut down,” he said.
“In other parts of the world if something like that happened to Iran or Russia or other countries, other states, that would be considered almost an act of war.”
Earlier this week, French maritime minister Annick Girardin said Paris would cut off electricity to Jersey – which gets 95% of its power supply from France – if the fishing licence dispute was not resolved.
The authorities in Jersey have promised further talks to help resolve the row, but the French government hit out at a “British failure” to abide by the terms of the UK-EU trade deal and warned it would “use all the leverage at our disposal” to protect the fishing industry.
The real hardship genuinely is on this side and I'm seeing my colleagues going out of business, fishermen that have done nothing else all their life, made a commitment to the industry since they were very young
The European Union also accused Jersey of breaching the deal signed by the UK and Brussels.
Mr Thompson added: “The real hardship genuinely is on this side and I’m seeing my colleagues going out of business, fishermen that have done nothing else all their life, made a commitment to the industry since they were very young, having to sell their boats and walk away from the industry.”
He called for a “show of good faith from France” in what is a “highly political” situation affected by the repercussions of the Brexit referendum.
“Jersey people didn’t even vote, didn’t even have the right to vote in Brexit. Everything that’s happened here in the way that we’ve become a third world state is entirely by default and it’s really unfortunate that we seem to be coming under the spotlight and being accused of using the Brexit scenario to our advantage when actually the opposite is true.”
In one of the more bizarre moments of the maritime protest, a man in a tricorne hat appeared to raise a musket and fire it into the air.
A video on social media appears to show the man standing at the island’s 16th-century Elizabeth Castle, whose walls have defended Jersey for more than 400 years.
Jersey Heritage, which runs the castle, had no comment on the video.
Speaking to PA on Friday, Mr Le Fondre criticised the threat to Jersey’s power supply.
He said: “The comments from one minister from France we felt were completely disproportionate and obviously a sad reflection on the views that were being expressed.”
Mr Le Fondre added that Jersey has its own power station that could be turned on, but said it buys energy from France because it is more environmentally friendly.
He said the protest by the fishermen went ahead “very peacefully, courteously” and added that his ministers had “good conversations with the French”.
“The fundamental principle is if you can demonstrate you’ve been fishing in Jersey waters for the minimum amount of time… then you will be able to continue to fish in those waters,” he added.
Jersey fisherman Josh Dearing, who owns seafood company The Jersey Catch, told PA that some fishing areas can be “quite contested” between the Jersey and French fleets.
Recalling the protest by French fishermen, he said: “It was quite frightening to be honest… it was really a worry for our fleet and what might have happened.
“Looking out on to the horizon you could see loads of like lights from the vessels themselves, red flares as they were making their way down towards the St Helier harbour and it was just a mass of white lights really.”
Asked what a good solution to the issue would look like, Mr Dearing said it was a “really tough subject” because “everyone has a right to fish and make a living”.
He added: “It’s a very hard job. But it’s a very sensitive subject and the rules are the rules and unfortunately those that don’t have those rights or those records are unable to fish these areas that are ours.”
Mr Dearing, who moved to Jersey after living in Maidstone in Kent, said the decision to send two Royal Navy warships to oversee the situation was “absolutely brilliant”.
“We were so exposed, such a small island, and having those two boats out there, although they kept their distance, must have had some sort of presence to stop anything from getting too out of hand.”