France detains British trawler during Brexit fishing rights row

·3-min read

Watch: France seizes British trawler in post-Brexit row

A British trawler has been seized by French authorities as the bitter row over post-Brexitfishing in the English Channel took a dramatic turn.

The Cornelis Gert Jan was taken by maritime police into custody in Le Havre while another vessel was issued a warning for trawling for scallops without the correct licences, the French said. A source close to the case said: “A judge has been instructed to deal with the British boat — the skipper faces criminal charges and may have his haul confiscated.”

The UK Government hit out at French authorities over what it described as “disappointing and disproportionate” actions. Meanwhile, the boss of Macduff Shellfish, which owns the detained vessel, said the boat was being used as a “pawn” in the dispute between France and the UK over fishing rights.

“Access to French waters for the UK scallop fleet is provided under the Brexit fisheries agreement. Macduff’s fishing activity is entirely legal,” said Andrew Brown. Marine Traffic data showed the Cornelis Gert Jan operating in the Seine Bay last night, before being approached by maritime police.

French maritime minister Annick Girardin said it is “not war but this is a combat” amid rising tensions between the neighbours. The detained boat was fined for “obstructing control” and her skipper faces a ban from French waters for “not being on the list of vessels given licences by the United Kingdom and the EU”, a French maritime ministry spokesman said.  

France’s government has complained that Britain is refusing to grant many of its fishermen paperwork to operate in British waters it says they are entitled to.

The UK has denied the claims and said it had granted 98 per cent of applications from European boats.

Ms Girardin said: “The figure ... is false. Only 90.3 per cent were. Obviously, the missing 10 per cent are for the French.”

Britain’s post-Brexit agreement with the EU states fishermen can continue to fish in UK waters if they obtain a licence and can prove that they have previously fished there.

On Wednesday, French ministers announced retaliatory measures that would come into effect from next Tuesday if no progress is made in talks. 

The country is threatening to ban British seafood imports, instigate additional customs checks on goods entering the continent through France’s border and prohibit British fishing boats from unloading in several French ports. It has also not ruled out cutting off electricity to the Channel Islands as part of the escalating dispute.

Watch: France has made 'some extraordinary threats' in fishing row, says Environment Secretary

Barrie Deas, from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, representing fishermen in England, said the “threatening noises” from the French government are “concerning”. 

He told the BBC’s Today show: “It is a bit strange because the French fleet fish in our waters much more than we fish in their waters. If we descend into a tit for tat relationship I think the French fleet are very much more exposed.” 

Answering an urgent question in the House of Commons this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “It is very disappointing to see the comments that came from France [on Wednesday]. We believe these are disappointing and disproportionate and not what we would expect from a close ally and partner.”

He said he was aware of reports of enforcement activities being undertaken by the French authorities and that the Government was looking into them.

He said he believed the two fishing boats had been licensed by the European authorities but that they may have subsequently been withdrawn. He added that he believed one of the boats was still being detained.

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