‘Threats do not help issues’

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Senator Ian Gorst said he firmly believed that Jersey’s issuing of the
fishing licences had been done in accordance with the terms of the post-Brexit Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement.

His comments came as the EU Commission appeared to side with France in the dispute, with an official claiming that Jersey had not followed the terms of the TECA, which came into force on 1 January.

The TECA superseded the Bay of Granville Treaty – which had previously set out shared fishing rights in the Island’s waters – and instead gave Jersey the sole right to issue licences to use its territorial waters for commercial purposes.

The imposition of the licensing regime last Friday, following an amnesty period, prompted yesterday’s mass demonstration by a flotilla of French boats in which fishermen, backed by their government, claimed that unfair terms had been applied to the licences without any notice.

According to reports, the new terms included restrictions on how long French boats could fish in the Island’s waters and what type of equipment they could use.

Senator Gorst said: ‘I am very strong in the view that the disproportionate threats do not help deal with the underlying issues.

‘We have had to spend time dealing with those threats, dealing with the blockade rather than spending time trying to resolve the issues. That work is under way again.

‘There are some technical issues that have to be worked through. Even though we have had all the threats and the demonstration, that is a sidelining of the main issues of finding a way to protect the historic fishing rights of Jersey fishermen and French fishermen as well.’

As tensions began to flare up earlier this week, Senator Gorst said he believed the dispute had arisen owing to different interpretations of the TECA.

He said that the French fishermen had understood that they had to produce evidence of at least ten days’ fishing a year for the past three years and would be given a full licence to fish in Jersey waters on that basis. However, the Senator said that ten days of evidence was needed to qualify fishermen for a licence, and that vessels which met the basic threshold would be given a licence to fish for as many days that they could show that they had fished in Island waters each year for the past three years.

A European Commission official said that Brussels backed the allegations made by France, claiming that the rules were discriminatory against European vessels and were introduced without consultation or notice, as required by the TECA.

External Relations Minister Ian Gorst. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (30795710)

‘Any proposed management conditions have to be notified in advance to the other party, giving them sufficient time to assess and react to the proposed measures,’ the official said.

‘Until the UK authorities provide further justifications on the new conditions, these new conditions should not apply. Any such conditions must also be non-discriminatory between UK and EU vessels.’

Senator Gorst reaffirmed that Jersey had received the ‘full support’ of the UK government and that the licences had been issued fairly.

‘The EU have questions about how the licences have been issued,’ he said. ‘We do not believe the licences issued are incorrect.

‘We are committed to playing our part to protect the rights [of both Jersey and French fishermen]. We have some measures we will be putting to the EU Commission.’

He added that there are ‘a lot of lawyers involved in interpreting the words of the agreement’.

During yesterday’s demonstration, Assistant Environment Minister Gregory Guida spoke directly with French fishermen.

Senator Gorst added: ‘The issues are quite technical and have to follow a bureaucratic process. The conversation, or the listening, that Deputy Guida did with the fisherman, I think was helpful. It opened up a direct line of communication.

‘They want to have their historic rights protected. We believe those historic rights are protected in the trade deal.’

Under the terms of the TECA it is stated that disputes over fisheries matters can be resolved by consulting with the Specialised Committee on Fisheries, which was due to be established as part of the agreement.

Recently the UK government confirmed that the committee would not become operational until the TECA had been ratified by the European parliament, which took place at the end of April.

Deputy Guida said: ‘All that we are changing now is that we are going to talk to the fishermen directly so that we can understand their problems and we can check that the information – that we get through the formal and legal process – is correct. I am sure it will make a huge difference.

‘Today [Thursday] was a bit more than what we expected. We knew there would be teething problems but this was not what we had in mind.

‘We felt so sorry for them – they are just trying to do their day-to-day jobs and have these problems. But I would also say that our exporters have had just the same problems trying to get to France and the same things happen to them.

‘You must remember that this is the first time we have done this. We will have to go through all of this and then we should be able to start fixing the problems that arise.’

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