More than a hundred French fishermen blocked trucks carrying fish from the UK on Thursday night, in a protest against a Brexit fishing deal they have dismissed as ‘a sham’.
Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union allowed the bloc’s fishermen to keep fishing deep into British waters, but only once they had received a license.
Those licenses were expected to be issued swiftly but instead some 80 per cent of the French fleet in the northern Hauts-de-France region, from whose coastline Britain’s southern shores are visible, were still waiting, French fishermen said.
‘We thought it would be a matter of days. Four months on we’ve barely moved forwards,’ said Bruno Margolle, who heads the main fishermen’s cooperative in Boulogne-sur-Mer.
More than a hundred French fishermen were readying on Thursday night to block trucks carrying fish from the UK, in a protest against a Brexit fishing deal they have dismissed as ‘a sham’
Protesters were spending the night at a checkpoint where lorries carrying fish from Britain into the northern French ports of Dunkirk and Calais are subject to hygiene checks
The fishermen set fire to pallets and tyres to stay warm at the Boulogne-sur-Mer checkpoint, in France’s busiest fishing hub
Protesters spent the night at a checkpoint where lorries carrying fish from Britain into the northern French ports of Dunkirk and Calais are subject to hygiene checks, now that the UK has left the European Union.
The fishermen set fire to pallets and tyres to stay warm at the Boulogne-sur-Mer checkpoint, in France‘s busiest fishing hub.
Many trucks from the UK changed routes after hearing of the planned action.
British-flagged ships operated by Dutch companies, which often unload fish caught in UK waters at French ports, had also changed course towards Belgium, the harbour master’s office told AFP.
A second group of protesters took up positions for a protest at the Boulogne fish market.
‘This night of action is a warning shot,’ said Olivier Lepretre, head of the regional fishing committee.
‘If nothing happens at the European level, we will shift up a gear.’
Lepretre said UK authorities had only granted licences to 22 out of the 120 boats seeking permission to fish between six and 12 nautical miles from the British coast.
No trucks from the UK were present, however, AFP journalists said on Thursday, with some having changed routes after hearing of the planned action
A second group of protesters were settling in for the night in front of the Boulogne fish market
Many of the skippers struggling to obtain a license were unable to meet the British demand for electronic data showing they had fished in UK waters during the five years running up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, Margolle said.
Britain maintained an evidence-based approach to licensing EU vessels using information supplied by the European Commission, the British government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said.
‘(We) consider this reaction to be unjustified,’ a DEFRA spokesman said.
The British government had raised its concerns over the protest with French authorities, the spokesman added.
The French government late on Thursday urged the European Commission to take ‘firm and determined action’ to ensure Britain applies the deal.
‘We will act in a spirit of European solidarity and cooperation with Britain, but the urgency of the situation compels us all to speed up efforts,’ Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Sea Minister Annick Girardin said in a statement.
British-flagged ships operated by Dutch companies, which often unload fish caught in UK waters at French ports, had also changed course towards Belgium
Local mayor Frederic Cuvillier also offered his support to the fishermen, calling for the EU to ‘wake up’ and protect the European fishing industry from Brexit’s impact.
‘The cruel truth is that there is no fishing deal,’ said Cuvillier, a former Socialist fishing minister, describing the situation as ‘desperate’.
About two-thirds of UK-landed fish are exported to the continent.
In the first weeks of the year, Britain’s exit from the EU’s orbit led to a chaotic breakdown in supply chains, which used to see Scottish scallops and langoustine in French shops barely a day after they were harvested.
Meanwhile, fishermen in northern France say their livelihoods depend on access to British waters, where they chase mackerel, whiting, squid and other species.
Margolle said French fish stocks risked being depleted if French fishermen could not cross into British waters. Some fishermen were keeping their boats tied up in port, he said.
‘It’s not worth going out to sea to lose money,’ Margolle said.
Fishing became a hugely fraught issue in negotiations late last year over an agreement to govern Britain and the EU’s post-Brexit trade relationship (pictured, French trawlers docked in Boulogne-sur-Mer in December)
The UK had insisted it wanted to take back control of its waters while EU coastal states sought guarantees that their fleets could keep fishing in British waters (pictured, fishermen bring in a haul of fish from the English Channel)
Fishing became a hugely fraught issue in negotiations late last year over an agreement to govern Britain and the EU’s post-Brexit trade relationship.
The UK had insisted it wanted to take back control of its waters while EU coastal states sought guarantees that their fleets could keep fishing in British waters.
London and Brussels eventually reached a compromise that will see European boats gradually relinquish 25 percent of their current quotas during a five-and-a-half-year transition period.
British fishermen, many of whom sell their catches in Europe and rely on rapid transport, have also been deeply unhappy with the post-Brexit situation, saying that extra red tape is threatening their livelihoods.