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French fishing industry divided over sanctions on UK trawlers

French fishing industry divided over sanctions on UK trawlers

Processing companies fear loss of jobs but fishers say tough action is needed

Crates of fish being unloaded from a trawler in Boulogne, France’s largest fishing port. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Crates of fish being unloaded from a trawler in Boulogne, France’s largest fishing port. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters
Europe correspondent

Last modified on Mon 1 Nov 2021 22.53 GMT

France’s seafood sector is divided over government sanctions on British trawlers due to start on Tuesday, with processing companies warning they will cost jobs but fishers insisting that after 10 months waiting for UK permits, tough action is needed.

Paris has said it could ban British trawlers from unloading in French ports, carry out extra licence checks on boats, tighten checks on trucks and reinforce customs and hygiene controls unless London grants more licences to fish in UK waters.

But the head of the fish wholesale association in Boulogne, France’s largest fishing port, said the planned measures were “excessive” and “disproportionate”, warning they risked doing more harm to the sector overall than good.

“Our processing businesses absolutely need British products, which represent about 25-30% of our deliveries,” Aymeric Chrzan told French radio, adding that France imported more seafood from the UK than is sold in French fish markets.

“The stake as are high for the whole fisheries sector – not just the wholesalers but the processing and salting companies,” Chrzan said, warning that up to 1,500 fish and seafood sector jobs out of a total of 5,000 in Boulogne could be at risk.

The British foreign secretary, Liz Truss, said on Monday that France had 48 hours to back down or the UK would begin dispute talks. President Emmanuel Macron said the ball was in Britain’s court and that France had tabled concrete de-escalation proposals.

Chrzan said the sanctions would lead to “delays at the very least. Since we work with fresh fish and just-in-time deliveries, any hold-ups can be catastrophic.” He said, however, that Britain should “respect its commitments” under the Brexit deal.

“We need a measured response and rapid solutions in both countries’ interests,” he said. Arnaud Delegorge, the managing director of one processing company, Marine SAS, told local media his firm processed 7,000 tonnes of Scottish salmon each year.

“Of course we will suffer if the planned sanctions are implemented,” he said. “If we stop British fish entering the French market we will really be shooting ourselves in the foot – we’re talking thousands of jobs here.”

However, Olivier Lepretre, the head of the Hauts-de-France regional fishers association, said his members had requested 80 licences to fish in UK waters but had so far been granted 35. “Some have seen their incomes fall by up to 50%,” he said.

Lepretre said those businesses concerned “will be in seriously difficulty very quickly. We need a solution, urgently. It’s a real problem. These boats are confined to French waters which as a result now risk being overfished.”

Fishers “really don’t care about the politics”, he said. “They just want to work, to go to sea. But they’re reaching the end of their tether now, because we’ve been waiting for 10 months. Unless something gives, some are going to go under.”

One Boulogne fisher who asked not to be named told French television: “After all this time, we need concrete steps. I’ve invested €3m in my boat and I need to be able to work properly. There’s been enough blah-blah – we want results.”