From the Normandy coast, the Jersey whelk wars look like sabotage | Jersey
If you look out to sea from the Christian Dior Museum on the cliffs above Granville, you see the gray outline of what appears to be another part of the Normandy coast.
It is. But this is not the case.
The island of Jersey, which trails along the horizon to the northwest, is one of the last fragments of the former Duchy of Normandy. There, 64 kilometers away, people do not speak French. There, people are richer (twice as rich on average) than people here.
The great couturier Christian Dior was born in the gray and unglamorous city of Granville in 1905. He quickly settled in Paris. His hometown now makes a living from tourism and, for now, fishing. If the Norman cousins on the water (and their millionaire-migrant fellow citizens) are successful, the town’s fishing industry is doomed to failure.
“They want to take our fishery, but what does the fishery mean to them?” asked Baptiste Guenon, 34, the skipper of Cap Lyhan, who was one of 100 Norman and Breton boats that demonstrated inside and outside the port of Saint-Hélier last Thursday. “It means 5% of their savings. What they really live on are banks and tax evasion. So why take our fish?
“It doesn’t make any sense. It wasn’t just the French boats that demonstrated on Thursday. Ten of the boats accompanying us were from Jersey. They are also disgusted with what their government is doing. If the boats from Jersey cannot. sell their fish in France, they cannot work.
Granville’s boats capture around 70% of their catch, 100% in some cases, in the waters around Jersey – as they have for centuries. A decision by the Jersey government late last month to limit those captures sparked a political and electoral chain reaction that led to a reckless threat from Paris last week to turn off the lights in Jersey. More than 90% of the island’s electricity comes from France by cable.
Outrage and misleading reports in UK media. On Thursday, according to tabloid headlines, French trawlers “fled” from the power of the Royal Navy.
“We barely saw the two British patrol boats,” said Frédéric Yann, 52, the skipper of Grosse Yann. “We stayed in the port of Saint-Hélier for four hours, then we went fishing – as we always said. What we saw was a launch with millionaire Jersey residents on board throwing empty bottles at us.
Seen from the French side of the water, what is the France-Jersey “whelk war” of 2021? It is an attempt, in miniature, to replay the British government’s failed campaign to make Brexit an El Dorado for British fishermen. According to the leaders of the French fishermen, the effort is just as ideologically motivated and just as ill-conceived.
New fishing licenses were issued on April 30 by the Jersey government as part of post-Brexit fishing agreements in UK and European waters. When local fishermen examined them, they found they had been gutted and filleted.
Some licenses only covered a few hours per year. Lobster and scallop fishing boats have been licensed to fish only whelks. Parts of the Jersey coast have been closed to French boats – against the terms of the fishing protocol attached to the EU-UK Brexit deal signed on December 24, as the European Commission confirmed on Friday.
Guenon typically fishes for whelks and scallops at least 100 days per year in the 6 to 12 mile area of Jersey. His license granted him, without explanation, 22 days.
Marc Delahaye, the director of the Normandy Regional Fisheries Committee, told the Observer: “These licenses were not the result of a misunderstanding or error as the Jersey government now says. It was a deliberate provocation, part of a long campaign by an extreme nationalist group in Jersey politics to sabotage centuries of cooperation between the islands and France.
“They sold a sort of ‘mini-Brexit idea’ of a Jersey freed from the shackles of French cooperation. They accuse us – wrongly – of overfishing and damaging the environment.
Delahaye says the UK government – and the media – should be faced with an obvious question: why is this dispute only between France and the Bailiwick of Jersey? Why is there no problem between France and the Bailiwick of Guernsey [which also covers Alderney and Sark]?
“The answer is that the government of Guernsey is run by reasonable people, who understand the importance of cooperation with France,” he said.
For centuries, fishing rights around the Channel Islands have been governed by bilateral agreements with France. The Channel Islands are not part of the UK and have never been part of the EU or its Common Fisheries Policy.
On December 24 last year, during the last-minute race for a post-Brexit trade deal, it was announced that the Channel Islands would be included in new arrangements for EU fishing in the waters British, and vice versa. Licensed EU vessels could continue to fish up to six miles from the southern coasts of England and the Channel Islands.
Jersey issued licenses on April 30, but they had little to do, French fishermen say, with the historical pattern of the fishery. French fishermen leaders say the restrictions were never lifted in advance and therefore violate the terms of the UK-EU Christmas Eve trade treaty.
The threat of “lights out” from the French government may also be illegal – and is certainly exaggerated. But politics is politics. France has regional elections in six weeks. The presidential elections are in 11 months.
What is happening now? With good will, everything could be resolved quite easily. The Jersey government seems alarmed at how things have gotten out of hand. French fishermen leaders are concerned, however, that Boris Johnson’s government will use gunboat diplomacy as a distraction from other broken fish promises.
“If this were left to the local people – even the current Jersey government – it could be resolved easily,” Delahaye said. “Now that Paris and London are involved, especially London, it could get very complicated.”