The UK seafood industry fears a fight over fishing rights with France will hit prices in the run-up to the vital Christmas market, when exporters typically expect brisk business and strong returns.
Producers eyeing the increasingly heated argument — which made global headlines with the French detention of a scallop trawler operated by Macduff Shellfish, a subsidiary of Canada’s Clearwater Seafoods — also fear a return to the logistics mess that hit sector earlier in the year when United Kingdom left the European Union’s orbit.
The weight of newly required Brexit paperwork, combined with severe delays at borders, forced producers to slash fish prices and led to lost business for UK seafood exporters supplying EU-based customers.
“We have started to see the times for fish to get across customs increasing, so its uncertain times but we are hoping it doesn’t escalate from here,” Cloe North, from the Western Producers Organisation, told Sky News in a TV interview.
“Threats made right from the top of the French government are very disturbing and we are hoping they are just threats and that we are not going to see those delays at customs.”
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North said she believed the fishing sector is being used a tool in a wider political game and that the issue could easily be sorted out by politicians.
Facing reelection in April next year French President Emmanual Macron will be keen to retain the support of coastal communities with his rival the far right candidate Marine Le Pen certain to try to take advantage of any perceived weakness in defending French fishermen.
At the same time the government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to do at least something to show it is living up to its pledge to control British waters following his Brexit trade deal at the end of last year, which came under fire from the UK fishing industry.
“From the fisheries industry’s point of view we just want good fishery management in this shared bit of sea that we share with France,” North said.
A fight over the number of fishing licenses granted to French fishing boats operating in British waters began almost as soon as the bells chimed in 2021.
French fishermen have been angered by the number of licenses issued allowing them to fish in UK waters.
While the UK government has insisted French vessels must prove they were fishing consistently in British waters before Jan. 1, French fisherman say the evidence requirements are too onerous, placing the UK in breach of its post-Brexit treaty obligations.
Almost 1,700 EU vessels have now been licensed to fish in UK waters, according to the UK government, more than 700 of which are French, a number disputed by the French government.
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While much of the dispute now centers on a six- to 12-mile zone off the British coast, French authorities are furious that more than 50 boats applying to fish in the waters off Jersey, a British crown dependency, have been rejected by that island’s government.
Smaller-sized French boat operators say they were allowed to fish in Jersey waters without the need for electronic logbooks but are now being told they need to produce entries from electronic logbooks to prove they were previously fishing in those grounds.
British scallop trawler F/V Cornelis, owned by Scotland-based Macduff Shellfish was detained by French authorities amid warnings that unless the dispute over fishing rights is resolved, UK boats will be prevented from landing their catches in French ports beginning this week.
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