French fishermen sell trawlers after accepting fishing row defeat as British captain seeks release

French fishermen have started selling their trawlers after accepting defeat in the fishing row between the UK and France.

Fisherman Loic Fontaine, from Calais, said he is planning to sell his boat because, cut off after Brexit from access to British waters where French fleets traditionally fished, the vessel can no longer earn its keep.

Fontaine, 45, admitted: ‘The English are stubborn, they won’t let go… it is better to stay friendly and to find a compromise. If we start a naval war, it won’t end.’ 

The fisherman said he is holding off signing away his boat for a few days longer, while Britain and France try to resolve their row over fishing licences.

It comes as the captain of a British trawler impounded for allegedly fishing in French territorial waters without a licence headed to court this morning to seek the release of his vessel.

Skipper Jondy Ward said he was ‘hopeful’ he would be able to leave France today as he was picked up from the scallop vessel Cornelis Gert Jan in Le Havre by his lawyer.

But Mr Ward must wait until midnight to learn whether his boat is free to go home after a judge at the Rouen Appeal court reserved the verdict in the case until the end of the day. 

Speaking after the hour-long hearing, Mr Ward said: ‘I hope to get home today or at some stage at a later date.

‘The decision will be made before midnight tonight on whether or not to release the boat, and the size of the bail.’  

Skipper Mr Ward is free to leave Le Havre but wants to remain with his vessel, he confirmed. 

The court will determine the conditions under which the boat will be released by the French authorities.  

His lawyer Mathieu Croix claimed the French authorities ‘made an example’ of the British vessel for ‘politics’.

French fisherman Loic Fontaine, from Calais, said he is selling his boat because, cut off after Brexit from access to British waters where French fleets traditionally fished, the vessel can no longer earn its keep

French fisherman Loic Fontaine, from Calais, said he is selling his boat because, cut off after Brexit from access to British waters where French fleets traditionally fished, the vessel can no longer earn its keep

Mr Ward (pictured leaving the court) must wait until midnight to learn whether his boat is free to go home after a judge at the Rouen Appeal court reserved the verdict in the case until the end of the day

Skipper Jondy Ward (pictured leaving the court today) must wait until midnight to learn whether his boat is free to go home after a judge at the Rouen Appeal court reserved the verdict in the case until the end of the day

The scallop trawler Cornelis Gert Jan pictured quayside at Le Havre on Wednesday

The scallop trawler Cornelis Gert Jan pictured quayside at Le Havre on Wednesday

Mr Croix said: ‘It’s not uncommon for this type of procedure to occur.

‘What is uncommon is the size of the bail, which the French administration clearly set to focus minds over the fishing row.

‘The action taken by the French authorities have been over the top.’

Mr Croix added: ‘We are clearly caught in the middle of a political game [between Great Britain and France]. 

‘As there is a whole story spun around this entire case. Whereas in fact it is quite a mundane affair over-fishing in an area that is supposedly out of bounds. And about fishing licences that may or may not have been given. And amounts of seafood catch that are relatively modest.

‘From then on, given the current political climate, the case blew up to levels that in our views are totally disproportionate.’

Mr Ward declined to comment earlier today when asked whether the Cornelis Gert Jan had the right licence. He said simply: ‘Mmhmm.’ 

Tensions escalated last week after the Cornelis was held in the port of Le Havre and France said it would put in place increased checks on trucks and produce coming from Britain and that British trawlers would be barred from docking in French ports from midnight on Monday.

Britain, accused by France of not honouring a post-Brexit deal on access to British fishing grounds, has now been given until Thursday to come up with a solution.

Thirty five licences have been granted to fishing boats in the Hauts-de-France region of northern France and French fisherman Mr Fontaine’s boat, the Sainte Catherine Labour, is one of 45 boats that is still waiting, according to a French tally.

These talks represent a last chance for Mr Fontaine, who says that it is not worth continuing in the profession without a licence to work in British waters. This year, he saw his profits drop by 60% compared to previous years.

Mr Fontaine says that it is not worth continuing in the profession without a licence to work in British waters

Mr Fontaine says that it is not worth continuing in the profession without a licence to work in British waters

‘(Now) we are all fishing in the same zone and it is getting less because we are going for the same resource, at some point we won’t get anything,’ he said.

In the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, fisherman Gaetan Delsart is also getting ready to watch his catch swim beyond his reach over the next months.

Like Mr Fontaine, he is counting on the two countries to come to a solution soon in order to continue to working.

‘I will hang up the keys in less than a year I think,’ said Mr Delsart, 35, who missed out on a licence as he did not have the approved tracking equipment installed on his boat to show he fished in British waters before 2016.

If he does have to sell, he is pessimistic he would get a decent price because, he said, ‘who would buy a boat without a licence?’  

In a sign of a potential breakthrough in the fishing row, French transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said today the UK has shown a ‘constructive’ spirit in its talks with France over post-Brexit fishing licences.   

‘I spoke to my counterpart yesterday evening. The spirit is a constructive one on this topic,’ Djebbari told Europe 1 radio. Talks would continue until Thursday, he added.   

Today’s hearing at the Rouen Appeal Court is an administrative one focusing on the immediate future of the British trawler.

Skipper Jondy Ward was picked up from the scallop vessel Cornelis Gert Jan in Le Havre by his French lawyer at 9.30am local time in time for a court hearing in Rouen

Skipper Jondy Ward was picked up from the scallop vessel Cornelis Gert Jan in Le Havre by his French lawyer at 9.30am local time in time for a court hearing in Rouen

Andrew Brown, director of Scottish firm MacDuff Shellfish, which owns the Cornelis, said charges against Mr Ward were no longer active, subject to appeal by the French. 

‘The illegal fishing charge was dropped by the judge at an emergency hearing in Rouen on Friday,’ said Mr Brown.

‘But this decision has been contested by the French authorities. A hearing on Wednesday will determine the conditions under which Cornelis Gert Jan will be released.’  

A legal source close to the case said: ‘It will determine the circumstances under which the boat can or can’t leave France.

‘She may have to pay a 150,000 euros deposit (£128,000), or she may be able to leave without any kind of bail.

‘The other possibility is that she is seized indefinitely while the criminal side of the case is dealt with.’

Disagreements over fishing between London and Paris culminated last Wednesday in the French seizure of the British trawler the Cornelis Gert Jan in French waters near Le Havre

Disagreements over fishing between London and Paris culminated last Wednesday in the French seizure of the British trawler the Cornelis Gert Jan in French waters near Le Havre

The French authorities, including gendarmes and prosecutors, still believe that the Cornelis broke the law by catching two tonnes of scallops close to Le Havre without an EU license.

She was ‘arrested’ by the Maritime Gendarmerie vessel Athos on October 27, having arrived from Shoreham, Sussex.

According to the French, the trawler was not included in the license lists granted in the UK by the European Commission and France.

But Jondy Ward, the Cornelis skipper, has claimed he has a licence that is valid until December, but it was erroneously cancelled in May.

At present, a separate criminal trial in Le Havre is still scheduled for August 11, when Mr Ward will face a charge of ‘acts of unauthorised sea fishing in French maritime salt waters by a third-party vessel to the European Union’.

This could be punished by a fine of up to £63,000 (€75,000), together with other ‘administrative sanctions,’ according to prosecutors.  

Captain Jondy Ward seen leaving the Cornelis Gert Jan before heading to the Rouen Court of Appel

Captain Jondy Ward seen leaving the Cornelis Gert Jan before heading to the Rouen Court of Appel

The boat was detained by gendarmes last Wednesday, and escorted to the quayside at Le Havre, where they have remained ever since. Pictured: Crew onboard the Cornelis Gert Jan

The boat was detained by gendarmes last Wednesday, and escorted to the quayside at Le Havre, where they have remained ever since. Pictured: Crew onboard the Cornelis Gert Jan

What is the fishing row between the UK and France about?

– How did Brexit spark the fishing feud?

When the UK left the EU, it also left the common fisheries policy, which since 1970 has allowed the bloc’s members access to all European waters outside the first 12 nautical miles of each country’s coastline.

The Brexit deal outlined how EU boats could continue to fish in UK waters, but British fishermen would get a greater share of the catch from those domestic waters.

Most of the share is being transferred to the UK this year, and there will be annual negotiations to decide how the catch is shared out going forwards.

– Why has this inflamed tensions with France? 

The rollout of the post-Brexit arrangements has caused a row, with Paris accusing the UK of failing to grant permission to every eligible French boat to fish in British waters. 

But the UK is adamant that it is following the terms of the Brexit deal which requires trawlers to provide historical GPS data to prove they worked in those waters before  Brexit. 

Some vessels have been unable to provide that data which has seen their applications for a licence be rejected. 

The Government has insisted 98 per cent of all EU fishing licence requests have been granted but France believes it is being shortchanged. 

– What is France threatening to do? 

French ministers have warned they will block British boats from some French ports and tighten checks on vessels travelling between France and the UK if the fishing licence dispute is not resolved.

France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, told French TV news channel CNews previously: ‘We have been extremely patient. Our fishermen have been extremely responsible. And so, from November 2, it’s over. We will engage in dialogue if the British want to, but we are taking retaliatory measures.’ 

What does Britain say?

Ministers have stressed that it is ready to grant more permits when boats can provide historical evidence. 

The government has warned that French reprisals would be a breach of the post-Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, and they are ready to trigger the dispute mechanisms to punish France. 

Is the situation starting to cool? 

Last night Emmanuel Macron pushed back the deadline until at least Thursday, saying action will not be taken while negotiations are ongoing.

Brexit minister Lord Frost and Mr Beaune are due to meet in Paris on Thursday.  

– Why was the British trawler detained?

The scallop vessel Cornelis was ordered to divert to the port of Le Havre after the French authorities said it was fishing in French waters without a licence.

The French said that another British trawler had been fined for obstruction after refusing to allow police to board to carry out checks.

The owner of the Cornelis, Macduff Shellfish, said the vessel had been fishing legally in French waters and called on the British Government to protect the rights of British fishermen.

It came after UK Environment Secretary George Eustice admitted he ‘misspoke’ yesterday when he claimed the boat had been released by France.

French prosecutors insisted the situation ‘remains subject to legal negotiations’ – with a deposit of around £125,000 (€150,000) due before she can return home to Britain.  

Mr Ward, who is accused of illegally fishing in French territorial waters for the valuable shellfish without a licence, faces a trial in August next year.

It came after Mr Macron said he would go back to the negotiating table with Britain rather than follow through on his extraordinary sabre-rattling.

He has shelved threats to block British trawlers from landing their catches in French ports, reduce electricity to Jersey and tighten customs checks until at least Thursday.

But despite the lull in hostilities, French fishing chiefs have warned trawlermen to stay away from British waters in case the spat blows up again.

On the surface the UK had refused to budge in the dispute over fishing rights, with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss adamant Britain would ‘not roll over’.

However, there have been gradually more being granted, with UK authorities insisting more evidence has been supplied that they used waters before Brexit.

Mr Macron told reporters at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow last night: ‘It is not while we are negotiating that we are going to impose sanctions. 

‘Since this afternoon, discussions have resumed on the basis of a proposal I made to Prime Minister Johnson.

‘The talks need to continue. We’ll see where we are tomorrow at the end of the day, to see if things have really changed. The next few hours are important hours.’ He added: ‘I understood that the British were going to come back to us tomorrow with other proposals.’

The French also responded with fury to claims they had been caught out fabricating information in order to fish in UK waters following Brexit.

UK officials have used satellite data to contradict claims by French seamen that they have previously fished off the coast of Britain.

Under the terms of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, EU vessels must prove they operated in British waters between 2012 and 2016 before they can get a new a licence.

Small French trawlers under 12 metres were not equipped with GPS trackers and could not easily prove their whereabouts, the French argue.

Olivier Lepretre, head of the Hauts-de-France regional fishing association, said his members had honestly requested 80 licences to fish in UK waters but had so far been granted only 35.

Flatly denying any fabrications, Mr Lepretre said fishermen ‘just want to go to sea and get on with their work’.

Fréderic Cuvillier, the Mayor of Boulogne – France’s biggest fishing port – meanwhile said: ‘We are in the midst of the post-Brexit earthquake.’

Mr Cuvillier warned that the fishing sector was ‘still in crisis,’ and if the UK refused to grant more licenses to French fishermen many would go out of business.

Lord Frost, Britain’s Brexit Minister, is due in Paris on Thursday to discuss the growing crisis with France’s Europe Minister, Clement Beaune.  

The Elysee Palace had originally stood firm, saying that if Britain refused to give ground on the number of licences it issued to French fishermen, it would implement its threats to British trawlers, to Jersey and on customs checks.

Ms Truss said, should France act, the UK would take legal action under the UK-EU Brexit trade deal, while Downing Street said it had ‘robust’ contingency plans in place.

At the Cop26 summit on Monday, Boris Johnson and Mr Macron shared a frosty greeting on stage in front of other world leaders. 

The day before, at a G20 meeting in Rome, Mr Johnson had told the French leader it was up to Paris to step back.

At the Cop26 summit on Monday, Boris Johnson and Mr Macron shared a frosty greeting on stage in front of other world leaders

At the Cop26 summit on Monday, Boris Johnson and Mr Macron shared a frosty greeting on stage in front of other world leaders

Despite a seeming lull in hostilities, a French fishing chief on Monday warned trawlermen to stay away from British waters in case the row blows up again.

Olivier Lepretre, chairman of the powerful northern French fisheries committee, said: ‘I fear there might be some tit-for-tat measures. We need an agreement that works for both French and British fishermen.’

source: dailymail.co.uk