There is an ongoing dispute between Britain and France over post-Brexit fishing rights. In summer, Brussels and the UK had reached a deal on fishing rights for species spread between the two sides’ waters. The deal sets catch limits for more than 70 different types of fish spread between EU and UK waters.
There’s a deal, and they’re arguing anyway?
Under the new post-Brexit trade deal, EU members states’ boats need licences to fish in UK waters, and UK boats need them to fish in the waters of EU member states. It was agreed that licences would be granted to boats that could prove they had fished in a particular area between 1 February 2017 and 31 January 2020. The UK denied licences to dozens of French boats to operate in their waters. The UK says they refused licences only for fishers who did not provide evidence of operating in British waters before Brexit.
Is it true?
The need to prove you have fished in a particular area in the past to get a licence is normal practice in fisheries management, and there are often disputes about the evidence. Big trawlers usually don’t have problems collecting this sort of information since they use automatic tracking tools. Instead, smaller vessels from French harbours to fish around the Channel Islands would find it harder to provide this kind of proof.
How could the dispute go on?
Last week, a British trawler was seized by France. It is unclear if it had a licence to fish in French waters. Furthermore, France made various threats: Limiting access to French ports for British vessels; increasing security checks on British boats and trucks (which would disrupt trade); cutting the supply of electricity to Jersey or charging tariffs on it.
Cutting electricity to Jersey?
There is a row within the row. It is about Jersey, an island near the coast of northwest Franc. As a so-called Crown Dependency (a self-governing possession of the British Crown), the island was never part of the UK nor EU. But in 1996, the Jersey government signed a fisheries management agreement with the UK that enabled the Jersey fleet’s catch to be treated ‘as if from the UK’. Consequently, the UK exit from the EU changed the licensing of European Union fishing boats to fish in Jersey’s territorial waters. French fishermen felt deprived and held a protest in the waters off Jersey’s main harbour. As the UK is responsible for the defence of the Channel Islands, it sent two patrol boats to Jersey in response to the fishermen’s threats to blockade it. Subsequently, French politicians suggested that Jersey’s electricity supply fed by undersea cables from France could be cut off in retaliation for Jersey placing limitations on the extent to which French boats can fish in the island’s waters.
What is the post-Brexit trade deal about?
EU boats will continue to fish in UK waters until 2026, but UK fishing boats will get – step by step – a greater share of the fish from UK waters. After 2026 the UK will has the right to exclude EU boats completely.
How much does this affect the European Union?
Compared to other industries, fishing is a relatively minor economic activity within the EU. It contributes less than 1 per cent to the gross national product. The combined EU fishing fleets land about 6 million tonnes of fish per year, of which about 700,000 tonnes were from UK waters. However, the EU is dependent on fish imports. Sixty per cent of fish consumed in the EU is coming from elsewhere.
Even though Europe is largely surrounded by water?
Partly due to improvements in the ability to transport fresh fish internationally, today’s fish comes to the EU from all over the world. Fresh fish sales have fallen, but demand for processed fish and prepared meals has grown. The EU fishing industry has a hard time keeping up with this development. In addition, it has been affected by overcapacity and shortages of fish to catch.
Challenging times for European fishers.
At least there is relaxation in the dispute between the UK and France. After Paris had pulled back from immediately imposing sanctions, UK environment secretary George Eustice welcomed a “big de-escalation” on Tuesday. According to the Financial Times, Eustice said there had been “constructive” talks between the two sides. Lord David Frost, UK Brexit minister, will meet Clément Beaune, France’s Europe minister, in Paris today to discuss the fishing dispute.
The negotiations about the fishing rights that ended initially successfully this summer were the two sides’ first post-Brexit exercise in holding fisheries talks as two independent coastal powers. It is not surprising that there are teething problems with the implementation. And both sides seem willing not to let the dispute escalate.