Britain and France sign truce over fishing license dispute

The bitter dispute between Britain and France over fishing rights appears to have ended after the European Commissioner for Fisheries praised the “successful and constructive relationship” between London and Brussels.

Virginijus Sinkevicius said nearly all licenses requested by French boats to work in waters off the UK since they left the bloc have been granted, with around 70 permits pending.

“The Commission is fully committed to continuing to build a fruitful and constructive relationship with the UK. We managed to get most of the licenses we applied for,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

A feud between the two countries over the right to fish in waters near Britain began after the UK left the EU in 2020 and required a new regime of access to waters shared for centuries.

The Brexit act The agreement, signed in 2020, ensured that the UK’s share of catch quotas in its waters increased by 25 per cent between 2021 and 2026. But in territorial waters 6-12 miles from shore, London agreed to allow French vessels that had previously fished there to continue.

Virginius Sinkevicius
Virginijus Sinkevicius: “Throughout the year there was generally good neighborliness and then relationships based on mutual cooperation and respect.” © Ronald Wittek/EPA/Shutterstock

However, the two countries have been at odds over the issue since last year. In May, two ships of the British Navy were dispatched to deal with French boats blockading ports in Jersey, the British dependency, in a dispute over the right to fish in its waters.

Tensions escalated in September after France said the UK was asking for too much evidence that ships were entitled to permits and that 150 French boats had been wrongly denied licenses.

In December, France threatened to ask the EU to take legal action over the matter, according to its fishermen blocked French ports and the channel tunnel.

But fisheries have barely figured in French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent election campaign, suggesting that both sides had struck a truce on the matter.

Visiting Brittany last week, Macron said the French government has kept its promise to protect its fishermen and 90 percent of licenses have been withheld. Meanwhile, a British official noted: “We haven’t heard from France in weeks. The quarrel has stopped.”

Sinkevicius brokered talks between the two sides in November, and the number of pending permits has since fallen to about 70. All permits granted in 2021 have been extended for 2022, he said, with some additional permits from the UK.

In total, around 1,500 EU boats have access to the UK exclusive economic zone, 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore; and 150 to its territorial waters, from 6-12 miles away. In addition, 131 French boats have licenses to fish around the Channel Island of Jersey and 44 around nearby Guernsey.

fishing vessels on the high seas off the Jersey coast,
The European Parliament last week accused the UK of taking “protectionist measures” by restricting licenses around the Channel Islands. © Oliver Pinel/AP

“Throughout the year there was generally a spirit of good neighborliness and then relationships based on mutual cooperation and respect,” Sinkevicius said.

He added that the UK will continue to issue licenses to boats that can show they have fished in its waters in the past.

Sinkevicius is under pressure from the European Parliament last week blamed Britain to take “protectionist measures” by restricting licenses around the Channel Islands. A symbolic resolution was passed by a vote of 619 to 12, calling on London to refrain from “controversial action”.

“We need to understand France and especially those regions that can essentially see Jersey and Guernsey from their shores. They always had a relationship with them. They used to fish in each other’s waters and live really well together, and then Brexit really reshuffled that relationship,” he said.

“On the Commission side, we will always support our fishermen and always stand behind them.”

The British government declined to comment. Britain and France sign truce over fishing license dispute

Adam Bradshaw

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