Lorries carrying UK landed fish have been blockaded by French trawlermen at Europe’s largest seafood processing centre in Boulogne-sur-Mer, north France.
Around 80 French fishermen set off flares and tried to block the trucks at the docks with barricades of pallets and barrels, unfurling a sign that stated: “You want to keep your waters??? Ok…So keep your fish!!!”
The French fishermen are protesting because of delays by the UK authorities in issuing licences to allow them to fish in British waters.
“We thought it would be a matter of days [to get a licence],” said Bruno Margolle, leader of the main fishermen’s cooperative in Boulogne-sur-Mer. “Four months on, we’ve barely moved forwards.”
‘The latest instalment in the fish wars’
Their action has forced talks between the UK and French governments to resolve a situation that has seen UK lorries diverted to avoid the disruption at Boulogne and the British embassy in Paris assist with the negotiations.
The Telegraph have called the blockade the “latest instalment in the fish wars” and says it has been particularly damaging for the Scottish seafood industry given a large proportion of its high value catch – including langoustine, scallop and white fish – is processed at Boulogne.
The Independent states further blockades “could be disastrous for the UK industry, which is already suffering from the effects of Brexit”, reminding that two-thirds of the UK’s catch is exported to Europe.
Downing Street has denied any responsibility for the delay in issuing fishing licences for French trawlermen and called their reaction “unjustified”. Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said on Friday: “We take an evidenced-based approach to licensing EU fishing vessels using the information that’s supplied to us by the European Commission.”
Electronic proof required for licence to fish UK waters
The New European reports that “some 80% of French fishermen in the Hauts-de-France are still waiting for a permit”, with many struggling to meet British requirements for electronic data proving their rights to fish in UK waters.
Under the terms of the Brexit deal, EU boats must present evidence of historical fishing activity from 2012-2016, in the UK’s 6-12 nautical mile territorial waters limit.
However, the French are unhappy because many of their smaller vessels – under 12 metres – lack the necessary equipment to prove the requirements, yet Downing Street is insisting “it has not received any applications for small vessels under 12 meters,” reports the Telegraph.
The UK Single Issuing Authority (UKSIA) has so far approved 87 French vessels for access to UK waters, with another 40 requiring further information and checks and the UK government is blaming the European Commission for the delays in processing the applications.
€100 approved by EU for French fishing industry
It is a charge Brussels denies, with a spokesman for the EC saying: “We have no pending licence applications from the site of the Commission.”
“When it comes to the issue of fishing in this post Brexit situation, we are on the Commission side fully implemented to ensuring full implementation and application of the trade in cooperation agreement with the UK.”
A source for the EU added: “The UK has insisted on receiving detailed positional evidence in order to grant authorisations. The EU has called upon the UK authorities to adopt a pragmatic approach in this regard.”
Reuters is reporting the barricade at Boulogne-de-Mer was lifted “hours before EU regulators approved 100 million euros ($120.52 million) in French aid for the country’s fisheries industry” on Friday (April 23).