On Monday, Jersey, a self-governing British Crown Dependency which lies approximately 14 miles off northern France and 85 miles from Britain’s southern shores of the British Channel Islands, agreed to a three-month extension period to post-Brexit transition arrangements. The extension will permit French vessels to continue fishing while negotiations continue to unfold over the new Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the United Kingdom (UK), France, and the European Union. The UK had previously blocked access to French fishing vessels between 12 nautical miles off their shores and gave licenses to only 22 out of 120 French boats seeking access. Jersey’s government has since offered to extend the transition period to allow certain ships to continue fishing in British waters.
French Maritime Minister Annick Girardin tweeted “Jersey has finally accepted the 3-month extension of the provisional licenses! A breath of fresh air for our fishermen.” Annick, in alignment with the EU, sent a request for an extension to the initial arrangements which ended on 30 June 2021. Jersey’s Minister for External Relations, Ian Gorst, stated to AA news “The relationship with France is hugely important to Jersey in so many ways. We know aspects of that relationship have been difficult recently but we want to ensure we work through the issues, fulfilling the terms of the TCA and ensuring the sustainability of fishing in our waters,” adding that “We are offering this extension to the amnesty period to allow the continuation of discussions. Work to establish how to translate the ‘extent and nature’ provision of the TCA into licensing must continue apace, it is an important element of the TCA and we must all recognize it has genuine meaning.”
Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, an interim arrangement that allowed French fishing boats holding a Granville Bay license to continue fishing in the waters was agreed upon at the beginning of the year. However, the rights to fishing in the area for French fishermen have become problematic since Brexit negotiations have stalled. As reported by RFI News, the new fishing licenses that were introduced in April required French vessels to prove that they had a history of fishing in Jersey’s waters through electronic data. Authorities claimed that this new measure was implemented without any notice and most small boats cannot carry this electronic equipment to prove that information.
Tensions escalated further in early May when roughly 60 French boats performed a blockade in St Helier’s harbour, Jersey’s capital, to protest the new licensing system. The UK Government responded by dispatching two Royal Navy gunships to the area. Annick Girardin then threatened to cut off Jersey’s electricity supply of which 95 percent is cabled from France. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron then diffused the situation by formulating an interim accord that expired on 30 June 2021. The latest extension of the agreement grants the already-licensed vessels which have monitoring system equipment and a reduced number of small EU vessels to continue fishing in the waters until the end of September.
The small island of Jersey is an important area for regional fishermen in the industry. Minister for Environment Deputy John Young stated to the Information and Public Services for the Island of Jersey department that “I hope this extra time will allow real progress and we have included certain steps along the way over the next few months to ensure the situation moves forward at a greater rate, which will benefit all fishermen. We must guarantee fishing in the Island’s waters is sustainable, whilst being compliant with the terms of the TCA.” In the coming months when the extension ends, it is imperative that the UK and France work together to find a solution that grants equal access to fishermen who previously relied on the area for business.