What is the Jersey fishing dispute about?

·2 min read

Royal Navy ships are patrolling the waters around Jersey amid an ongoing row between the island and France over post-Brexit fishing rights.

HMS Severn and HMS Tamar have been deployed by the UK Government to “monitor the situation”, and Agence France-Presse reports France has despatched two patrol vessels as dozens of French fishing boats gathered near the island.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the key questions surrounding the dispute.

What is the row about?

It erupted after the Jersey government said French fishing boats would be required to obtain a licence to fish in the island’s waters under the terms of the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with the EU which came into force last week.

It caused anger in French fishing communities, which complained boats which had operated there for years were suddenly having their access to the fisheries restricted.

Jersey fishing rights dispute
(PA Graphics)

Under the new rules, French boats which want to fish in Jersey’s waters need to prove they have history of previously working in those waters to keep operating.

Jersey’s external relations minister, Ian Gorst, said that of the 41 boats which sought licences under the new rules last Friday, all but 17 had provided the evidence required.

On Wednesday, the UK and Jersey both hit out at “disproportionate” threats from France after warnings that electricity to the island could be cut amid the dispute.

Why is fishing a controversial Brexit issue?

London and Brussels found fishing and control of the seas a sticking point during the Brexit negotiations.

The issue has symbolic significance in both the UK and the EU.

The industry is highly concentrated around fishing port towns on both sides of the Channel and any impact on the sector is felt most strongly in those areas.

When the Brexit deal was struck in December, the Government was accused of selling out the industry with the agreement which included a transition period allowing EU and UK fishing vessels access to each other’s waters for another five years.

Jersey fishing dispute
French fishing vessels staging a protest outside the harbour at St Helier, Jersey (Josh Dearing/PA)

The transition period was cut to five-and-a-half years from the 14 years first demanded by the EU, and Brussels reduced its share of the quota by 25%.

The total number of fishers on UK registered boats was around 12,000 in 2019, according to a House of Commons Library briefing.

Is this the first dispute the UK has had over fish?

Royal Navy boats were also deployed during the “cod wars” between the UK and Iceland – fishing rights disputes which ran from the 1950s until the 1970s.

The acrimonious and long-running feud saw violent clashes, with boats ramming into each other, the nets of trawlers cut, and the Navy sent out for protection.

The disputes effectively ended long-distance fishing by British trawlers.

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