Post-Brexit Hunting: Marathon negotiations ahead of Brussels deadline

For France, the reckoning still does not exist: while the European Commission has asked the UK to settle the post-Brexit dispute over fishing licenses by Friday, negotiations are continuing between Brussels, Paris and London.

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Negotiations are ongoing regarding the remaining licenses. “We are continuing the discussions and we expect positive results by the 10th of December,” France’s Minister of the Seas, Annick Girardin, told AFP on Tuesday evening.

On the British side, we are sure we are working tirelessly to solve the problems, according to a source in the Ministry of the Environment that oversees fishing, without giving a date.

And while bilateral relations have deteriorated further recently on the issue of migration, meetings have been linked in recent days on fishing under the auspices of the European Commission.

This affair has plagued Franco-British relations for more than eleven months. Nobody is satisfied. The French fishermen are feeling deceived, Paris has raised its voice to demand that the Commission be “more vigorous”, and London is stalling, not hearing the behavior dictated by Europe, which has chosen to leave.

Under the Brexit agreement signed at the end of 2020 between London and Brussels, European fishermen can continue to work in British waters provided they can prove they have fished there before. But the French and British argue about the nature and extent of the supporting documents to be submitted.

Since January 1, 2021, France has obtained about a thousand fishing licenses in British waters and those in the Channel Islands, but Paris still requires a hundred.

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‘Risk of overexploitation’

And the tone had already escalated, and on several occasions likened the confrontation: the French fishermen’s siege of Jersey last May, which led to the dispatch of two British patrol boats; French threats of sanctions swelled in October; More recently, French fishermen closed the ports and shipping terminal of the Channel Tunnel, through which 25% of trade between the UK and Europe passes.

Overwhelmed by months of waiting and feeling that Europe had “let them down” when they submitted “all the required paperwork”, the French fishermen said they were ready to go further if no progress was made.

I repeat: no ship will be left unresolved. “We know how to count on the work of the Commission to defend with us the demands of the French fishermen,” said Annick Girardin on Tuesday evening.

As discussions progress peacefully with the island of Guernsey, which Paris considers a “reliable partner” and which granted 43 final licenses to French fishermen on December 1, trade has become more tense with London and Baywick Jersey.

Keen to see the situation open up, Paris targeted as a “priority” a few dozen cases: those of ships whose economic survival largely depended on access to British waters.

For weeks, discussions have faltered over the fate of 40 replacement boats (recently taken over by fishermen to replenish their fleet) mainly located in Hauts-de-France (North): their situation is particularly dire as they no longer have any access to British waters since 1 January 2021, with losses It ranges from 20 to 50% of sales volume, according to the National Fisheries Commission.

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About a quarter of the French catch (excluding the Mediterranean) by volume (about 20% by value) comes from British waters, which are so rich in fish that they are the source of €650 million in annual sales to European fishermen.

In the absence of British licenses for European ships, the fishermen are also warning of the “risk of over-exploitation” of resources on the French side.

“Negotiations are actually just the beginning,” an official of the Fisheries Committee sighs, stressing that in addition to the issue of licenses, it is necessary to address the issue of “fishing methods and quotas” and “there, discussions are already going on very tense.”

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