Kevin Singleton, 33, who owns a 30-ft trawler to catch scallop, warned: “If Brexit went bad, and the French didn’t get into the UK waters, we’re worried about them dispersing down into the Granville Bay, which is our area.” Scallop, lobster and crab are keeping alive what remains of the wrecked industry after decades under EU restrictions on species like skate and ray – which have surged in recent years, but is not adjusted for by the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.
Free from the CFP, the fishermen also want out of Treaty of the Bay of Granville, allowing them to take control of their waters.
More than a hundred fishermen marched down the central street of St Helier on 14 February, demanding to scrap the treaty now, before the results are clear of UK trade talks with Brussels.
The treaty was signed in 2000 and gives the French regions of Brittany and Normandy a majority in decisions about fishing restrictions and the right to boost their fleet around the island from today’s 67 to 427.
In St Helier and six other Jersey ports, with a combined fleet of fewer than a hundred boats, there is a fear of a French “invasion”.
Brexit fishing war: Jersey fishermen fear French ‘invasion’ of UK waters will wipe them out
Mr Singleton said: “It’s really worrying. The stocks can’t take it. We’re having bad years. Not much stuff coming up at all.
“Our waters just can’t take that amount of effort. The French fleet is very very good at what they do.”
His trawler is one of just a few larger vessels left on the island and will face tough competition in the event of a fishing war.
He added: “We haven’t seen the effect of the trawling side of the fleet yet, but we know how efficient the French fleet is. And if they do decide to turn their attention to Jersey waters it’s really worrying for me.”
Despite never being in the EU, they have had to follow quotas from Brussels under the London Fisheries Convention, limiting their access to abundant stocks of species like skates.
French fisherman unpacks his Guernsey crabs
Mr Singleton continued: “It’s a rocky coastline, and it’s a favourable habitat for those fish. They are in absolute abundance. They’ve told us we can have 20 kilos. Maybe two fish per trip. But you can’t go out there for two fish.
“You’re not allowed to catch half of it, under the EU rules. You’ve got to throw it back. It’s in abundance, some of the skates and rays. You can have forty or fifty fish in each haul, and they’re all going back dead.
“The problem is the quotas from Brussels don’t match what’s there.
“They put bans on certain species for whole areas but it should be more regional. They should pinpoint the areas that are genuinely under threat and protect them.”
Gregory Guida, Assistant Minister for Environment in Jersey
Free from the EU’s rules, they see the opportunity to take control of managing resources, while maintaining good relations.
A conflict could see ports like Granville and Carteret closed for vessels wanting to land their catch.
The island does not have processing plants of its own.
Mr Singleton said: “The people that have always worked in our waters – that’s fine. Carry on as you are. But we just don’t want extra boats we’ve never seen before hammering away at the stock. We can’t take it.”
With a lack of recruitment among younger generations, Mr Singleton and his colleague Jonny Bisson, 33, see little hope in keeping the status quo.
Some placards are seen sticking out of a crate inside their warehouse on Victoria Pier, from their recent protest, reading: “Jersey fishermen – endangered species” and “Time to listen, ministers”.
Progress – the largest remaining fishing boat in Jersey
While Boris Jonson’s administration is in negotiations with Brussels over a trade agreement, Jersey is in the midst of its own talks, about a better deal with Brittany and Normandy for the sea.
The parties met in Paris for talks at the end of February.
Assistant Minister for the Environment Gregory Guida wants to wait and see the outcome of the UK’s trade talks first before Jersey makes any bold claims.
Mr Guida said: “It’s about international relations. We are trying to have good relations with France.
“This treaty has to be balanced before the UK starts to properly fight. If it’s difficult, and nobody likes it, we’re not going to fight for it.”
European fisheries revealed as UK negotiates new relationship with EU
Mr Guida, who took part in the talks in Paris in late February, thinks a “fishing war” scenario is manageable.
He said: “We need more control over conservation of stocks. And number two, we have to make sure that there cannot be this huge influx whatever happens outside, we need to be protected.”
Talks usually take place every other year, but this year parties have already met twice, with another meeting planned in the near future, possibly in London.
Mr Guida says he pushed the French side hard.
“I think the French got the message,” he said.
Fishermen protesting against French fishermen
With nearly 70 percent of EU catch currently originating in UK waters, French boats are inevitably going to be looking for places to compensate for the loss of income.
There have already been physical clashes between French and British boats in 2018 in the “scallop war” in the Bay of Seine.
Sophie Leroy owns four trawlers based out of Cherbourg that are operating mainly on the UK side of the Channel.
The crew of Maribelise are unloading a catch of monkfish caught on the British sector.
Cherbourg is another potential flashpoint in the coming “fishing war”, as French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has threatened with a blockade should trade talks end in the EU losing access to UK fisheries.
The EU fleet currently takes two-thirds of its catch in British waters.
Miss Leroy’s trawlers operate close to England’s southern shores with 30 percent of their catch taken from within six to 12 miles of the coast, and 40 percent between 12 miles and Channel midline.
Her boats have also registered with Guernsey’s authorities under new post-Brexit rules, but in case of a “fishing war”, turning to Channel waters would not be enough to make up for the loss of access to British waters.
Miss Leroy said: “I’ll go bankrupt. It’ll be the end for our forty employees.”
Most of the local fishermen down the Normandy coast own boats that cannot go further than 30 miles from shore and would be hit hard by a sudden invasion of larger commercial vessels chased away from UK waters.
They are generally supportive of Channel Islands demands for control, but fear the loss of access and see no alternatives.
A fisherman in Cherbourg loads the day’s crab catch into a van on a rainy afternoon, saying he has registered in Guernsey under the new post-Brexit rules but has no idea what will happen after December 31.
‘I’ll go bankrupt if UK closes its waters,’ says Sophie Leroy
Guernsey shut its waters to French boats on February 1, sparking a brief conflict.
For five days, boats from Guernsey were refused entry to Granville, the most important landing port.
One Guernsey skipper reportedly received a threat by email that his boat would get torched if he tried to enter.
A serious crisis was averted when Guernsey got in place the paperwork required by the EU for “third country waters”, under so-called SMEFF rules.
The Fisheries Department in Guernsey told Express.co.uk that they do not expect an influx of EU boats in case of a breakdown of post-Brexit talks, and stocks are manageable under current regulations.
Kevin Singleton braces for an invasion of French boats
Josephine Ferguson, a marketing executive with the States of Guernsey, said: “There is no expectation that levels of access will increase in the future.”
In trade talks with the EU, with fishing a major issue, Boris Johnson’s team will be speaking on behalf of the Channel Islands in terms of future arrangements, an Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman confirmed.
He said: ”The Governments of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey are responsible for decisions on fisheries management, including access, in their waters. The UK Government represents Crown Dependencies internationally and we are working closely with them on their future arrangements.”
Don Thompson, the President of the Jersey Fishermen’s Association, argues that the Treaty of the Bay of Granville cannot be renegotiated under EU rules, because it is a bilateral treaty between the UK and France.
One of the serious obstacles to joint management is Jersey’s lack of access to catch data.
The marine resources department has demanded access for years but instead has had to try to estimate how much French boats catch based on analysis of satellite readings of the boats’ movements.
There are also problems with disagreements over when to switch to tighter conservation measures like smaller landing size for crab and lobster.
Management of Jersey waters is handled by a committee overseen by the French government based on data from Ifremer, the French oceanographic institute.
If the UK closes its waters, it would be a catastrophe for Normandy fisheries, says Alexia Courdant
Alexia Courdant, a marine resources specialist who works for the Fisheries committee in Normandy and is familiar with the committee’s work, said if Jersey wanted the catch data, they could have just asked for it.
Mlle Courdant said: ”The problem is that they are saying that the French effort is too important, and they are not taking into consideration that maybe their effort is also too heavy on the resources.”
The marine resources specialist claims that the lobster stock is well managed in France, but in Jersey, it’s starting to decline.
Don Thompson from the Jersey Fishermen’s Association disagrees.
He said: ”It is absolutely clear that figures indicating serious decline in the lobster stocks are precisely the same right across all fleets working in the Granville Bay zone.”
Some fear the politicians are neglecting the fishermen in favour of the financial services sector which makes up 40 percent of the island’s economy, but when they marched through St Helier, Mr Thompson noticed many local politicians joining them.
Mr Thompson added: ”A lot of politicians see that the economy may be based on finance, but what they call the traditional industries are really important for the future of this island, to maintain some culture. We see that actually the majority in the government are supportive of the fishermen’s case, that we take control.
“Boris’s government would probably throw the Treaty in the bin tomorrow if you asked them.
“We think that the UK has an obligation to make sure that we don’t lose our whole fishing fleet because of an international agreement.”