Why is there a row over Jersey fishing – and how could it get worse?
Two Royal Navy ships were sent to Jersey amid fears of a possible blockade of the island by French ships – but why were they deployed?
Sky News examines what sparked the tensions and how the row could escalate.
What is happening?
The UK deployed HMS Severn and HMS Tamar to Jersey to conduct ‘maritime security patrols’ as a ‘precautionary measure’ following discussions with the Jersey government, the Defense Ministry said.
HMS Severn entered service in June last year – after being rescued from scrapping – to bolster the UK’s ability to patrol its waters after Brexit.
HMS Tamar entered service in December last year as one of five new offshore patrol vessels.
Meanwhile, France sent its own patrol boat to Jersey to “guarantee the safety” of people at sea and “accompany” French fishing vessels.
Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, is a dependency of the British Crown and is internationally defended and represented by the British government.
It lies just 14 miles from the French coast and 85 miles south of the English coast.
Why was the Royal Navy sent?
The ships were deployed amid concerns of a possible blockade of Jersey by French boats.
As of Thursday morning, up to 60 vessels were reported off the south Jersey coast, near the island’s capital, Saint-Helier, as part of a protest by French fishermen.
Some have launched flares, but the protest has so far remained peaceful, according to the Jersey Evening Post.
There had been concerns about more direct action by the protesters.
Paul Luxon, Managing Director of Condor Ferries, posted on Twitter that the Commodore Goodwill freight ferry had been “trapped” in the port of St Helier.
However, it was later reported that the ship would be cleared to leave.
Downing Street said any blockade would be “totally unjustified”.
Why are French fishermen protesting?
French fishing crews demonstrate in a dispute over post-Brexit fishing rights.
Under the Brexit trade deal, which entered into force on January 1, EU fishermen continue to have certain rights to fish in UK waters as part of a transition period until in 2026.
However, under the new rules, EU vessels wishing to fish within 12 miles of the UK coast must be licensed and prove that they have fished in those waters before in order to continue operating.
This includes presenting evidence of their past fishing activities.
Jersey has not granted licenses to some of the boats that have applied to fish in its waters.
Ian Gorst, the island’s foreign affairs minister, said of the 41 boats that applied for licenses under the new rules last Friday, all but 17 provided the required evidence.
“The trade deal is clear, but I think there has been some confusion over how it should be implemented, as we absolutely respect the historic rights of French fishermen to fish in Jersey waters as they have been doing this for centuries, ”he said.
“I think a solution can be found. I am optimistic that we can allow more time to allow this evidence to be provided.”
The French government has also expressed its anger at what it called conditions unilaterally imposed on fishing licenses, including the time that French fishing vessels could spend in Jersey waters.
Jersey said it had issued permits under the terms of the post-Brexit trade deal.
Could the line get any worse? Could the lights go out on Jersey?
French Maritime Affairs Minister Annick Girardin warned this week that her country was ready to take “retaliatory measures” on the fishing dispute.
This included a threat that France could cut power to Jersey, which – with a population of 100,000 – receives 95% of its electricity from France via three submarine cables.
And Ms Girardin told the French parliament this week: “In the deal (Brexit) there are retaliatory measures. Well, we are ready to use them.
“As far as Jersey is concerned, I remind you of delivering electricity along submarine cables. While it would be unfortunate if we had to do this, we will if we have to.”
However, the Jersey government has assured residents that “the island’s essential infrastructure will not be disrupted as local facilities are able to meet our electricity needs in the event of an external disruption.”
When the current EU-UK fishing transition period ends in 2026, it is also possible that new tensions will arise when the two sides enter into annual negotiations to decide how to share fish stocks between them.
Have there been any fishing disputes before?
During the UK’s 47 years of EU membership, fishing rights have been decided under the Union’s Common Fisheries Policy.
However, before that there had been what was called the “cod war” between Icelandic and British fishing vessels from 1958 to 1976.
These violent clashes were triggered by Iceland asserting its control over the seas surrounding the island.
The Royal Navy got involved by escorting British trawlers.
In what has been dubbed the “Scallop Wars” in the summer of 2018, tensions erupted between French and British boats around the waters of the Bay of Seine.
© Sky News 2021