EXPLAINED: Why are French fishermen so angry about Jersey’s post-Brexit fishing licences?

A protest over fishing licences granted by the tiny island of Jersey seems to have escalated out of all proportion with the UK government sending two gunboats to the area - but what are the French fishermen so angry about?

EXPLAINED: Why are French fishermen so angry about Jersey's post-Brexit fishing licences?
French boats stage a protest off the coast of Jersey. Photo: Sameer Al Doumy/AFP

What is happening?

On Thursday between 50 and 70 French fishing boats staged a protest around the harbour of Saint Helier, the capital of the Channel Island of Jersey.

The boats gathered outside the island’s main harbour, in what was described as a blockade.

But Ludovic Lazaro, a French fisherman from Granville, told AFP that “we’re not really blocking. We’re all outside the port.”

But the departure of a cargo ship in Saint Helier was being held up, he said.

“The port captain in Jersey doesn’t want to let the cargo ship out if everyone is around here. He wants everyone to leave,” he said.

Camille Lecureuil, from the port of Carteret, added: “Everyone seems to have decided to stop the cargo ship from leaving. Fishing boats are moving into position at the entrance of the port.

“It’s a peaceful protest. There’s no reason for it to degenerate.”

On Wednesday evening the British government announced that it was sending two Royal Naval vessels to the area to monitor the protest, and on Thursday these were joined by two French police vessels, which had a mission “guaranteeing the safeguarding of human life” in case rescues are necessary, said the Préfet maritime de la zone Manche-Mer du Nord, the local authority which authorised the deployment.

The fishermen began departing from Jersey waters in the early afternoon of Thursday, with Lazaro saying: “Now it’s up to the ministers to work it out. We won’t be able to do much more.”

French fishing boats protest in front of the port of Saint Helier off the British island of Jersey. Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP

Why are the fishermen so angry?

The issue is over fishing licences post-Brexit.

Jersey is a British crown dependency, but it’s only 19km off the coast of France and around 250 French boats regularly fish the waters around the island – supporting around 900 families and another 2,000 jobs on shore.

As part of Brexit-related fishing talks it was agreed that French boats which had habitually fished around Jersey would be allowed to continue doing so – but would need new licences.

Because of Jersey’s unusual status – owned by the British Crown but not actually part of the UK – these licences come from Jersey authorities, not the British government in London.

But the fishermen say that when they received their licenses they had new requirements and limitations which were not part of the agreement – with some fishermen licensed to fish for just one or two weeks out of the year.

“These fishing authorisations are inconsistent. Without explanation, the authorisations vary from 7 to 170 fishing days per year per boat,” fishermen told local paper Ouest France on Monday. “A vessel fishing whelk and lobster found itself with a permit only for whelks.”

Jean-Claude La Vaullée has been sailing his boat Cach in Jersey waters for 40 years. “And I’ve been granted… eleven hours of fishing per year. What is that? A tip?” he demanded.

The uncertainty of future access is also a major concern.

Théo Marais, a fisherman from the French port of Gouville, said: “I’m having my first boat built. I’m 24 years old, it’s a €825,000 boat that I’m not even sure I can launch! We love our jobs. We don’t want to live on aid, what we want is to work.”

How does Jersey respond to this?

Jersey officials have struck a conciliatory tone, talking of “misunderstandings” over the licences and saying that French fishermen can apply for extra licenses or extended fishing hours.

What do the Jersey locals think?

It depends who you ask, French fishermen say the locals are with them and agree that the new conditions are unfair.

Chris Le Masurier, the owner of the Jersey Oyster Company, described conditions placed upon the new post-Brexit fishing licences issued to Breton and Norman fishers as “insulting and discriminatory”.

But Don Thompson, president of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, told British TV show Good Morning Britain: “The French fishermen out there want conditions removed from their licences so that they can fish with no constraints in our waters, whilst our boats are subject to all sorts of conditions.”

Are the fishermen really that angry?

There’s certainly been lots of angry rhetoric, with Jean-Claude La Vaullée saying that he and other skippers had now equipped their vessels to “re-stage the Battle of Trafalgar”.

But there are between 50 and 70 boats at the protest, which some say is just a protest rather than a blockade – by French protesting standards this is pretty mild.

There is a tradition of robust public protest in France, where strikes are common and frequently involve blockades, rolling road blocks and setting things on fire. In fact, Jersey officials should probably be thankful that no-one has been kidnapped yet.

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Looked at in context, this protest is probably not something we should over-react to (in case anyone from the UK government is reading this).

Which politicians have stuck their oar in?

Away from the fishermen, tensions have been ratcheted up by politicians on both sides and the fact that Thursday sees local elections happening in the UK may not be a coincidence.

Although the issuing of the licenses is up to Jersey politicians, the UK is responsible for its diplomatic and international relations.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is, according to the UK media, personally responsible for the decision to send two gunboats to Jersey.

On the French side, Maritime Minister Annick Girardin escalated tensions on Tuesday by warning that France could cut electricity supplies to Jersey in retaliation.

Europe Minister Clément Beaune accused Britain of being to blame for failing to implement a Brexit deal that came into force on January 1st which should have guaranteed French fishermen the right to continue working in British waters.

“Our wish is not to have tensions, but to have a quick and full application of the deal,” he told AFP.

“That’s the case for Jersey and that’s the case for the licences we are waiting for in the Hauts-de-France region.” 

Meanwhile Jersey’s external affairs minister Ian Gorst said: “We welcome the ongoing support from the prime minister and UK government to achieve a diplomatic solution to this dispute, and we are aware that the UK are sending two offshore patrol vessels as a precautionary measure to monitor the situation in Jersey waters.

“Diplomatic efforts will continue to resolve the outstanding issues relating to fishing licences and to de-escalate the situation, and we will continue to liaise closely with UK and EU officials over the coming hours and days to achieve a pragmatic solution.”

Member comments

  1. Not sure that re-enacting Trafalgar would be a terribly good idea. Perhaps the French have forgotten the outcome.

  2. Brexit or not – Lets remember that the European fishing fleet fish in British waters because they over-fished and destroyed their own breeding grounds.
    Also Europe Minister Clément Beaune has a bad attitude towards the UK and has inflamed rather than calmed the situation (and many other situations). He needs to let someone more diplomatic hold the role. Threatening to cut off the islands electricity is tantamount to an act of war. Its politicians that are ramping up the tensions.
    On the other hand now the Withdrawl agreement has been ratified then it the UK must live up to its obligations and complete the exercise and issue the remaining fishing licences.
    Also Jersey was never part of the EU, and has always been responsible for its own fishing rules. Brexit has complicated the situation and now more French fishermen are chasing an ever decreasing share of the catch. None of them want to give up their fishing life – but it is time for them to face reality as the UK had to when it lost most of its fishing fleet when the UK joined the EU and got involved with the common fishing policy.

    1. Some give and take on both sides would sort things out. Jersey fishermen want to sell their catch in France and French fishermen want to continue fishing in Jersey waters. Provided it is all done in a scientifically balanced (to avoid overfishing) and reasonable way, everyone is treated fairly.

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‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

A new in-depth survey on British nationals living in the EU has revealed the impact that Brexit has had upon their lives, and their attitudes to their country of origin.

'Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed' - How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

The study, conducted by academics at Lancaster and Birmingham universities, provides a snapshot of how Brits in the EU live – their age, family, work and education – and how they feel about the UK in the six years since the Brexit vote.

Unsurprisingly, it revealed that Brexit has had a major practical impact on the lives of Brits living in the EU – who are now subject to third-country rules and require residency cards or visas and face restrictions on voting and onward movement within the EU.

But the survey’s 1,328 respondents were also asked about their emotions towards the country of their birth.

Eighty percent of respondents said it had changed their feelings towards the UK.

A British woman living in Norway said she felt: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British, ashamed that I didn’t try hard enough, or appreciate my EU citizenship.”

“Since Brexit I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried, and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarised,” added a British woman in her 30s living in Denmark.

An Austrian resident with dual British-Irish nationality said: “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it.

“So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality (Irish) despite the fact I never grew up in Ireland. It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.”

The experience of living abroad during the pandemic also affected people’s feelings towards the UK, with 43 percent of people saying the UK’s handling of the Covid crisis affected their feelings towards the county.

A British woman in her 50s living in Spain said: “It was shambolic. Too late, too little, mixed messaging, lack of seriousness. So many deaths after what should have been a head start.”

A British man living in Greece described it simply as “a shit show”.

In addition to the Brexit effect, the survey also provided interesting and detailed data on the lives and profiles of Brits who live in the EU;

  • 69 percent had degree-level education
  • 77 percent worked in a professional or managerial role
  • 53 percent are of working age
  • 59 percent have been living in their country of residence for more than five years
  • 78 percent said it was very unlikely that they would move countries in the next five years 
  • The most common reasons for moving country were retirement (40 percent), family reasons (35 percent) and work (30 percent)

Almost all respondents said that Brexit had impacted their lives, with the loss of freedom of movement being the most common effect mentioned.

One man said: “My original plan (pre-2016) was to move to France on retirement, due in 2026. Brexit caused me to move sooner, in order to retain my European citizenship rights. The pandemic helped (indirectly) in that I got locked down in France in 2020, which enabled me to earn residence under the pre-Brexit rules. I had been talking to my employer about doing something similar before the pandemic broke.”

“I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100 percent a result of Brexit,” said one American-British dual national.

Other respondents talked about the post-Brexit admin necessary to gain residency status in their country, financial losses due to the weakening of the pound against the euro and the loss on onward freedom of movement – meaning that Brits resident in one EU country no longer have the right to move to another.

The report also highlighted that only 60 percent of respondents had changed their legal status by security residency since Brexit.

For some Brits in the EU this is not necessary if they already have citizenship of their country of residence (or another EU country such as Ireland) but the report’s author highlighted that: “It may also offer an early indicator that within this population there are some who may find themselves without legal residence status, with consequences in the future for their right to residence, and access to healthcare, welfare and work (among other services).”

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In total 42 percent of respondents were completely disenfranchised – the 15-year rule means they can no longer vote in the UK, while the loss of EU citizenship means that they cannot vote in European or local elections in their country of residence.

The British government has recently announced the ending of the 15-year rule, giving voting rights to all UK nationals, no matter how long they live outside the UK.