Brexit: Jersey fishermen accuse French skippers of piracy

French government ministers threatening to cut off power supplies to Jersey in a row over post Brexit fishing licences

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Fishing industry leaders on Jersey have launched a blistering attack on French fishermen, accusing them of piracy and seriously threatening the livelihoods of their counterparts on the Channel island.

It comes as French government ministers threaten to cut off power supplies to Jersey in a row over post Brexit fishing licences.

A fishing boat in the harbour at St Helier, on the Channel Island of Jersey.
A fishing boat in the harbour at St Helier, on the Channel Island of Jersey.

The government in St Helier has rejected more than 70 licence applications from French skippers, who have been unable to demonstrate they have fished in Jersey’s fishing waters before.

The move has infuriated senior government ministers in Paris and brought threats the French government may cut off power to Jersey, which is dependent on France for 95% of its electricity supply.

Paul Bizec, Director of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association said many of their French counterparts were simply “chancing their arm” that they had never fished in the waters around Jersey before.

He told GB News: “You know we won’t have an industry in another five years because the French are just so greedy, they want all our waters.

They're going to rob us blind

Director of Jersey's Fisherman's Association

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

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

Mr Bizec, who skippers a lobster and crab boat, said he and many of his Jersey colleagues faced a future of bankruptcy if things continued on their current path.

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

Under the post Brexit fishing deal between the UK and the EU, French skippers have to prove that that they’ve fished Jersey’s waters for no less than 11 days over the past three years.

Jersey’s External Affairs Minister Senator Ian Gorst said that more than 70 French vessels had not been able to prove they had previously fished the island’s waters and so did not qualify for a new post-Brexit licence.

He said that threats by senior French ministers to cut off power supplies were wholly disproportionate and in breach of the new deal.

“That is not something that you expect a G7 nation to do.”

He said.

“They should be sitting down, round the table, looking at the evidence.

“If vessels have got evidence that they’ve fished in our waters for that period, they’re entitled to a licence.

“But let’s equally be clear, if they haven’t they are not entitled to a licence and we would be breaching the trade deal if we hand them that licence.”

Although the government in St Helier hopes the threats from Paris will not materialise, officials have drawn up contingency plans with Jersey Electricity.

A spokesperson for the power company said: “Jersey Electricity is aware of the issues surrounding the French fishing dispute and have assured customers that in the unlikely event electricity supplies are disrupted, the island has sufficient back-up generation capacity at La Collette Power Station and Queen’s Road to meet current demand.

GB News accompanied local skipper Jack Bailey on his boat Whitewaters, as he went to inspect the lobster pots he laid two days earlier.

As one of the youngest skippers on the island, he is far from enthusiastic about the future of Jersey’s fragile fishing industry.

He said many fishing businesses were hanging by a thread and relations with the French were at an historic low.

“Certain boats have had lots of problems with the French.

“It’s just like an outright war you know. It’s a shame, because they are our neighbours and we do get on with certain boats.”

Last May, French fishing boats mounted a blockade of St Helier Harbour in protest over the awarding of the fishing licences.

Many on Jersey fear the French boats will mount fresh action in the weeks ahead.

Jack Bailey said that last time, local skippers had obeyed a request by Jersey authorities to stay in port and not confront their French counterparts.

A fishing trawler leaves the harbour in Portsmouth.
A fishing trawler leaves the harbour in Portsmouth.

Next time round, he said all bets are off.

“I think a lot of the Jersey fishermen will react this time.

“The trouble is Jersey’s not just fighting another island over something, you’re fighting a nation.

“It is a hard one, but I don’t think Jersey Fishermen will take any more of this.”

Paul Bizec said any direct action by the French in future would be met head on.

“I mean if they want to come back and blockade this time, we will be there for them. We’re losing our livelihoods. If our government had a bit of backbone am sure they’d help us.”

Mark Drelaud has fished these waters for three decades.

He is good friends with some of the French skippers.

If it comes to confrontation, he says the most sensible option would be to stay in port.

“If they’re angered like they are at the moment, it would be very worrying.

“If our boats do go out and try and battle with them, or try and stand our ground with them, they might get angry and try and ram our boats with their boats which are a lot bigger than ours.”

All sides here hope calmer heads will prevail.

But these are uncertain times, where the plight of fragile fishing communities continues to stoke intense emotions on both sides of the Channel.