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BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, France: French trawlers angered by delays in obtaining fishing licenses in UK waters blocked trucks carrying fish landed in UK with barricades on fire as they arrived during the overnight in the largest seafood processing center in Europe.
Britain’s trade deal with the EU after Brexit has allowed fishermen in the bloc to continue fishing deep in British waters, but only after they have been given a license.
These licenses were to be issued quickly, but instead about 80% of the fleet in the northern Hauts-de-France region, of which Britain’s southern shores are visible, are still waiting, said fishermen from Boulogne-sur-Mer.
“We thought it would be a matter of days. Four months later, we have barely made progress, ”said Bruno Margolle, who heads the main fishermen’s cooperative in Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Several dozen fishermen lit flares on the quays of Boulogne, blocked trucks with a barricade of wooden pallets and barrels.
The barricade was lifted on Friday, hours before EU regulators approved 100 million euros ($ 120.52 million) in French aid to the country’s fishing industry.
The financial support will partially compensate fishermen whose boats have been idle due to quota cuts or have been prevented from accessing UK waters, as well as fish processing companies affected by supply chains that are being stifled by bureaucracy.
Many skippers struggling to get a license were unable to meet UK demand for electronic data showing they had fished in UK waters in the five years leading up to the 2016 UK referendum on the joining the EU, said the fishermen.
Britain has maintained an evidence-based approach to licensing EU vessels using information provided by the European Commission, UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said (DEFRA).
DEFRA said the protest was unwarranted and that it had expressed its concerns to the French authorities.
The French government has said it will speed up efforts to resolve the licensing issue and urged the European Commission to ensure Britain implements the deal.
Fishermen in northern France say their livelihoods depend on access to British waters, where they hunt mackerel, whiting, squid and other species. Meanwhile, British fishermen depend on access to the EU market to sell their products.
About two thirds of fish landed in the UK are exported to the mainland. Britain’s exit from the orbit of the EU at the end of a post-Brexit transition period led earlier this year to a chaotic breakdown in supply chains, which used to seeing scallops and scampi in French stores barely a day after they were harvested.
Margolle said half of the Hauts-de-France fleet had been mainly stranded in port this year because it could not access British waters. “It’s not worth going to sea to lose money,” said Margolle.