Jersey Fishermen Vow to Battle Aggressive French, Accuse Them of Piracy

JERSEY, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 18: French skipper and fisherman Sylvain Marie fishes for lobsters and spider crabs on November 18, 2020 in the territorial waters of Jersey. France carries out nearly 30 percent of its fishing in the United Kingdom territorial waters and as such failure in the Brexit trade …
Siegfried Modola/Getty Images

Fishermen in Jersey have accused the French of piracy as tensions increase over France’s demands for more licences to trawl in British waters, with the Jerseymen saying that should the French attempt to blockade their port again, they will retaliate.

The remarks come amidst recent threats from Paris to cut off electricity to Jersey, a British Crown Dependency just 14 miles off the coast of France, and to the United Kingdom proper.

The issue of French fishermen in post-Brexit waters first arose in May 2021. Jersey is responsible for its own fishing rights, powers for the Channel Island that French authorities and its fishermen objected to, claiming it to be in conflict with post-Brexit fishing agreements. That month, French fishing vessels descended on the island to blockade its port and capital, St Helier, prompting the British government to send naval vessels to monitor the situation.

At the prospect of potential power cuts and blockades, Jersey fishermen speaking to GB News on Tuesday have accused French fishermen of being “pirates”, with some vowing that this time, they will not sit back and will fight the French, even it if means going to prison.

Director of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association Paul Bizec told the news broadcaster that there may not be a fishing industry on the island in five years’ time because “the French are just so greedy, they want all our waters.”

“But we’ve never had more than 70 vessels before and they are trying to get another 140 to 200 boat licences,” he added.

“They are going to cry like babies, the French will cry like babies to try and benefit themselves, they’re greedy, they are pirates.”

“They’re going to rape our seas, they’re going to rob us blind and we’re going to be out of business,” Mr Bizec said.

The recent row began following the government of St Helier’s decision to reject 70 licence applications for French skippers that were not able to prove they had a history of fishing in Jersey’s waters. French boats only have to prove they had fished in Jersey’s waters for no fewer than 11 days in the last three years.

However, the Channel Island still granted 95 licences to French trawlers (64 full and 31 temporary) last month — far more than had fished these waters before, according to islanders speaking to GB News — on top of the 47 already given permission earlier this year.

In the post-Brexit trade deal signed by London and Brussels last Christmas Eve, European fishermen who had been profiting off of British waters were given a generous five-and-half year transition, on top of the near-five years they have had to prepare for changes following the 2016 UK vote to leave the EU.

While the government has tried to give the impression that EU rights to British waters will end after this period, there is no guarantee this will actually be the case, with the EU suggesting that they interpret the deal as envisaging a renewal of the current arrangements after this period.

Local skipper Jack Bailey said it was “just like an outright war” and that while last time fishermen obeyed orders to stay in port and not confront French fishermen, “I don’t think Jersey Fishermen will take any more of this”.

“I think a lot of the Jersey fishermen will react this time,” Mr Bailey said.

Mr Bizec said: “If they want to come back and blockade this time, we will be there for them, to stop them coming in. If some of us have to go to jail, well, we’ll have to go to jail.”

“We’re losing our livelihoods. If our government had a bit of backbone, I’m sure they’d help us,” he added.

Last week, France’s EU Affairs Minister Clément Beaune threatened to cut the electricity to Jersey and the United Kingdom. France supplies around 95 per cent of Jersey’s electricity, with around 47 per cent of all energy imports to the UK coming from France.

Jersey authorities do not believe that France would follow through on its threat, but say they have put contingencies in place.

France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex also said that the EU had to get tough with the British over Paris’s perception that London had breached the Brexit agreement, which strongly favours the EU.

However, not everyone in the political bloc has signed up to starting France’s next war with Britain over fishing. President Emmanuel Macron has reportedly been humiliated, with only ten European governments backing him. One European diplomat speaking to The Times even accused France of being greedy, saying Paris wanted more licences “than there are fish in the Channel”.

“France has not been speaking to the EU,” the source said, calling Macron’s threats “bluster”.

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