BREXIT has led rows over fisheries between the UK and France to resurface – but many across the English Channel are fearing that the UK’s departure could cause “the end of French fishing” in a key port.
In July 2016, just one month after the UK voted to leave the EU and its Common Fisheries Policy, French fishermen fumed as they feared they could lose up to 80 percent of their stocks. French boats, under the CFP, are allowed to fish up to six nautical miles from the British coast in many areas but EU laws largely prevent British vessels from fishing within 12 miles of the French coast. The French National Fisheries Committee complained to the French prime minister, Manuel Valls, in 2016.
They warned that regions such as Normandy, Brittany and the ‘Hauts de France’ region around Calais could be “very badly affected” by Brexit.
Bruno Margollé, head of a fishing cooperative, said: “If tomorrow we can no longer exercise our historic rights in English waters, that could mark the end of French fishing in Boulogne. The impact is going to be huge.”
Boulogne-sur-Mer is the largest French fishing port.
Head of the regional Fisheries Committee, Olivier Lepretre, said: “We’re really worried. If the English take back their waters we’ll lose important fishing areas.”
Jean-Pierre Le Visage of the Scapeche company, a leading fishing vessel owner in France, said: “If we’re talking about the nationalisation of British waters, we would lose 70 to 80 percent of our volumes.”
While French fishermen are dreading the consequences of losing access to British waters, they have not always been welcoming to British boats on the other side of the Channel.
A row erupted in August 2018 when French fishing boats tried to prevent several British vessels from catching sea scallops off the Normandy coast.
It quickly descended into violence when three British trawlers were chased by French boats, hit by stones and rammed by their counterparts.
On top of this, petrol bombs and rocket flares were thrown as the British boats fled the area to find shelter. The relentless attacks from French fishermen came despite UK vessels being permitted to fish in the Bay of Seine area.
Dimitri Rogoff, head of the Normandy Fishermen’s Association, said at the time that the violent scenes “demonstrate the exasperation of Normandy fishermen in a situation which persists and does not change”.
A similar row also occurred in 2012.
French fishermen have become dependent on UK waters for their businesses.
According to NAFC Marine Centre’s data, UK vessels land 32 percent of fish in its waters, while EU states combined take 43 percent.
Between 2012-2016 for example, France caught 120,000 tonnes of fish worth £171million, according to Marine Management Organisation figures.
But the UK only gained £17million’s worth of landing from French waters in the same period.
The issue of fisheries threatens to derail Brexit trade talks despite its small impact on the overall economy both in the UK and the EU.
The EU27 has agreed to its red lines on Brexit trade talks while Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take back control of British waters.
Brussels has maintained a deal between the UK and EU can only happen if Mr Johnson grants the bloc access to British waters.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a press conference recently that fishing rights must be included in the deal or there “won’t be any agreement at all”.