French fishermen blockade lorries carrying UK fish amid fury over ‘sham’ Brexit fishing deal 

More than a hundred French fishermen blocked trucks carrying fish from the UK on Thursday night in a protest against a Brexit fishing deal they have dismissed as ‘a sham’. 

Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union allowed the bloc’s fishermen to keep fishing deep into British waters, but only once they had received a licence.

Those licences were expected to be issued swiftly but instead some 80 per cent of the French fleet in the northern Hauts-de-France region – who can see Britain’s southern shores from their own coastline – were still waiting, French fishermen said.

‘We thought it would be a matter of days. Four months on we’ve barely moved forwards,’ said Bruno Margolle, who heads the main fishermen’s cooperative in Boulogne-sur-Mer.  

More than a hundred French fishermen blocked trucks carrying fish from the UK on Thursday night, in a protest against a Brexit fishing deal they have dismissed as 'a sham'

More than a hundred French fishermen blocked trucks carrying fish from the UK on Thursday night, in a protest against a Brexit fishing deal they have dismissed as 'a sham'

More than a hundred French fishermen blocked trucks carrying fish from the UK on Thursday night, in a protest against a Brexit fishing deal they have dismissed as ‘a sham’ 

Britain's post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union allowed the bloc's fishermen to keep fishing deep into British waters, but only once they had received a licence

Britain's post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union allowed the bloc's fishermen to keep fishing deep into British waters, but only once they had received a licence

Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union allowed the bloc’s fishermen to keep fishing deep into British waters, but only once they had received a licence

The fishermen set fire to pallets and tyres to stay warm at the Boulogne-sur-Mer checkpoint, in France's busiest fishing hub

The fishermen set fire to pallets and tyres to stay warm at the Boulogne-sur-Mer checkpoint, in France's busiest fishing hub

The fishermen set fire to pallets and tyres to stay warm at the Boulogne-sur-Mer checkpoint, in France’s busiest fishing hub

Protesters spent the night at a checkpoint where lorries carrying fish from Britain into the northern French ports of Dunkirk and Calais are subject to hygiene checks, now that the UK has left the European Union.

The fishermen set fire to pallets and tyres to stay warm at the Boulogne-sur-Mer checkpoint, in France‘s busiest fishing hub.

Many trucks from the UK changed routes after hearing of the planned action.  

British-flagged ships operated by Dutch companies, which often unload fish caught in UK waters at French ports, had also changed course towards Belgium, the harbour master’s office told AFP.

A second group of protesters took up positions for a protest at the Boulogne fish market.

‘This night of action is a warning shot,’ said Olivier Lepretre, head of the regional fishing committee.

‘If nothing happens at the European level, we will shift up a gear.’

Lepretre said UK authorities had only granted licences to 22 out of the 120 boats seeking permission to fish between six and 12 nautical miles from the British coast. 

No trucks from the UK were present, however, AFP journalists said on Thursday, with some having changed routes after hearing of the planned action

No trucks from the UK were present, however, AFP journalists said on Thursday, with some having changed routes after hearing of the planned action

No trucks from the UK were present, however, AFP journalists said on Thursday, with some having changed routes after hearing of the planned action

A second group of protesters took up positions for a protest at the Boulogne fish market

A second group of protesters took up positions for a protest at the Boulogne fish market

A second group of protesters took up positions for a protest at the Boulogne fish market

Many of the skippers struggling to obtain a licence were unable to meet the British demand for electronic data showing they had fished in UK waters during the five years running up to Britain's 2016 referendum on EU membership

Many of the skippers struggling to obtain a licence were unable to meet the British demand for electronic data showing they had fished in UK waters during the five years running up to Britain's 2016 referendum on EU membership

Many of the skippers struggling to obtain a licence were unable to meet the British demand for electronic data showing they had fished in UK waters during the five years running up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership

Many of the skippers struggling to obtain a licence were unable to meet the British demand for electronic data showing they had fished in UK waters during the five years leading up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, Margolle said. 

Britain maintained an evidence-based approach to licensing EU vessels using information supplied by the European Commission, the British government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said.

‘We do not recognise the figures that have been shared by the French fishing industry and consider this reaction to be unjustified. 

‘Our concerns regarding the protest action have been raised directly with the French authorities’, a DEFRA spokesman said. 

The British government had raised its concerns over the protest with French authorities, the spokesman added.

The French government late on Thursday urged the European Commission to take ‘firm and determined action’ to ensure Britain applies the deal.

‘We will act in a spirit of European solidarity and cooperation with Britain, but the urgency of the situation compels us all to speed up efforts,’ Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Sea Minister Annick Girardin said in a statement.

British-flagged ships operated by Dutch companies, which often unload fish caught in UK waters at French ports, had also changed course towards Belgium

British-flagged ships operated by Dutch companies, which often unload fish caught in UK waters at French ports, had also changed course towards Belgium

British-flagged ships operated by Dutch companies, which often unload fish caught in UK waters at French ports, had also changed course towards Belgium

Local mayor Frederic Cuvillier also offered his support to the fishermen, calling for the EU to ‘wake up’ and protect the European fishing industry from Brexit’s impact.

‘The cruel truth is that there is no fishing deal,’ said Cuvillier, a former Socialist fishing minister, describing the situation as ‘desperate’.

About two-thirds of UK-landed fish are exported to the continent. 

In the first weeks of the year, Britain’s exit from the EU’s orbit led to a chaotic breakdown in supply chains, which used to see Scottish scallops and langoustine in French shops barely a day after they were harvested.

Meanwhile, fishermen in northern France say their livelihoods depend on access to British waters, where they chase mackerel, whiting, squid and other species.

Margolle said French fish stocks risked being depleted if French fishermen could not cross into British waters. Some fishermen were keeping their boats tied up in port, he said.

‘It’s not worth going out to sea to lose money,’ Margolle said.   

Fishing became a hugely fraught issue in negotiations late last year over an agreement to govern Britain and the EU's post-Brexit trade relationship (pictured, French trawlers docked in Boulogne-sur-Mer in December)

Fishing became a hugely fraught issue in negotiations late last year over an agreement to govern Britain and the EU's post-Brexit trade relationship (pictured, French trawlers docked in Boulogne-sur-Mer in December)

Fishing became a hugely fraught issue in negotiations late last year over an agreement to govern Britain and the EU’s post-Brexit trade relationship (pictured, French trawlers docked in Boulogne-sur-Mer in December)

The UK had insisted it wanted to take back control of its waters while EU coastal states sought guarantees that their fleets could keep fishing in British waters (pictured,  fishermen bring in a haul of fish from the English Channel)

The UK had insisted it wanted to take back control of its waters while EU coastal states sought guarantees that their fleets could keep fishing in British waters (pictured,  fishermen bring in a haul of fish from the English Channel)

The UK had insisted it wanted to take back control of its waters while EU coastal states sought guarantees that their fleets could keep fishing in British waters (pictured,  fishermen bring in a haul of fish from the English Channel)

Fishing became a hugely fraught issue in negotiations late last year over an agreement to govern Britain and the EU’s post-Brexit trade relationship.

The UK had insisted it wanted to take back control of its waters while EU coastal states sought guarantees that their fleets could keep fishing in British waters.

London and Brussels eventually reached a compromise that will see European boats gradually relinquish 25 percent of their current quotas during a five-and-a-half-year transition period.

British fishermen, many of whom sell their catches in Europe and rely on rapid transport, have also been deeply unhappy with the post-Brexit situation, saying that extra red tape is threatening their livelihoods.

UK-France fishing rows since Brexit

A fresh row started on February 1 after the UK announced it was considering a total ban on fishing in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea over environmental concerns

A fresh row started on February 1 after the UK announced it was considering a total ban on fishing in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea over environmental concerns

A fresh row started on February 1 after the UK announced it was considering a total ban on fishing in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea over environmental concerns 

At the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020, the EU introduced a series of new checks and paperwork for UK exports of fresh fish and seafood to Europe. 

The new paperwork includes up to seven documents – an export health certificate, catch certificate, customs export declaration, endangered species permit, common health entry document, storage document and processing statement – for a single lorry carrying one species for export to the EU. 

The Government’s Marine Management Organisation produced a lengthy 33-point flowchart (pictured below) on how British suppliers can export wild-caught marine fish to the EU from January 1. 

In contrast, the EU was given a six month grace period to continue importing to the UK with no paperwork or barriers. The new customs procedures forced firms to tie up their boats and tell workers to stay on land, costing the British fishing industry near £1 million a day, and angering workers. 

A fresh row started on February 1 after the UK announced it was considering a total ban on fishing in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea over environmental concerns. 

The EU saw the proposal as a thinly veiled plan to reduce the waters available for the bloc’s fishermen. About 85 per cent of fish caught in the area, which straddles waters controlled by the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, is caught by the bloc’s fleets, according to the Financial Times.  

Shellfish could be transported to the Continent only if they have been treated in expensive purification plants first.Picture: Stock

Shellfish could be transported to the Continent only if they have been treated in expensive purification plants first.Picture: Stock

Shellfish could be transported to the Continent only if they have been treated in expensive purification plants first.Picture: Stock

In February, Brussels told British fishermen they were permanently banned from selling live mussels, oysters, clams, cockles and scallops from Britain’s so-called ‘Class B’ waters to EU member states on the grounds of public health. 

Under the rules, shellfish could be transported to the Continent only if they have been treated in expensive purification plants first. 

In response to the announcement, Environment Minister George Eustice said the UK would considering conducting disruptive spot checks on European fishing boats to interrupt their catches unless Brussels backed down over the ban.

MPs urged the Prime Minister to take retaliatory action such as slowing down the UK’s approval of fishing licences to EU vessels seeking access to the UK’s territorial waters.  

Fishermen across the UK were given the green light to export shellfish to the continent in mid-April. 

The move came after the independent Food Standards Agency upgraded the waters off Kent, Essex, Devon, Cornwall and Northumberland to Class A, meaning shellfish caught in these areas can be exported to the EU without requiring purification treatment first. 

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