France releases British trawler caught in Channel fishing dispute
LONDON (AP) – A UK-registered scallop caught in a post-Brexit dispute between the UK and France over fishing licenses has been released by French authorities, its owner said on Wednesday.
Andrew Brown, public affairs manager for Macduff Shellfish, owner of the scallop dredge, said the Cornelis Gert Jan had left Le Havre in northern France. French maritime police seized the vessel off the Normandy coast last week and arrested its captain and crew.
The boat, which was arrested for a paperwork violation, has become the symbol of a bigger row between the UK and France over fishing rights in the English Channel since the UK withdrew from the European Union.
“We are happy to have resolved this matter and delighted that our crew and our vessel are now able to return home,” said Brown. “The crew acted calmly and professionally throughout the incident. They are in good spirits, eager to reunite with their loved ones and are grateful for all the messages of support received from the UK public.
The French and British governments exchanged threats and allegations for weeks about French applications for licenses to fish in British waters. France has complained that dozens of its boats have been denied licenses to fish in the waters around Britain and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, which are self-governing dependencies of the British Crown near from the coast of northern France.
Fishing is a small industry economically for both countries but with disproportionate political importance, and the dispute has turned into an important test for Britain’s relations with the European Union after Brexit.
France has threatened to close its ports to some British ships and impose strict controls on ships and trucks carrying British goods, if more licenses are not granted. Paris also suggested at one point that it could restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands, which are heavily dependent on French electricity.
The French government initially said it would impose the sanctions if no resolution to the license dispute was found by Tuesday. He pushed back the deadline, then said on Wednesday that measures were on hold until at least Friday, while talks involving French, British and EU officials continue.
Britain says a blockade would violate the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and that the problem at the origin of the dispute is of a technical nature linked to the lack of papers of certain French boats to prove that they have traditionally fished in the areas where they wish to continue working.
But France sees it as a matter of principle and has accused Britain of violating its legally binding divorce agreement with the European Union, which sets the rules for fishing in the post-Brexit era.
French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were strewn with questions about the diplomatic dusting off as they attended a Group of 20 summit in Rome and the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last week.
The impounded trawler is not among the vessels involved in the licensing dispute, according to the captain’s lawyer. Mathieu Croix, lawyer for skipper Jondy Ward, said on Wednesday that a French court had ordered the boat’s release.
The Rouen court overturned last week’s seizure, Croix told The Associated Press. French maritime authorities, which seized the boat in the port of Le Havre last week, did not immediately react to the decision.
Croix said the dredge was “caught up in a political game”
“There is a whole story going around this whole thing, when in fact it is a rather mundane affair of fishing in an area that is supposed to be prohibited and permits that may have been granted or no and catches relatively modest amounts, ”said Croix.
“From that point on, given the current political climate, the case has exploded to levels which, in our opinion, are totally disproportionate,” he said.
Charlton reported from Paris.
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Jill Lawless and Angela Charlton, The Associated Press