France and Britain are at odds over fishing rights in Channel. A row over the politically sensitive sector has caused a major diplomatic flare-up. 

What is the cause of the dispute?


Britain’s withdrawal form the European Union, which took effect on January 1, broke up agreements to manage fish stocks in waters around the UK.

Before Brexit, EU members, including Britain, had treaties and a common fisheries policy which allocated quotas of different stocks each nation to its fishing fleet.

These agreements allowed hundreds of EU vessels, mostly French, to access Britain’s fish-rich territorial waters, which are located between six and twelve miles from the coast.

What changed?

The most difficult issue to resolve in the tense Brexit negotiations was fishing. Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, promised to regain “full command” over British waters.

The two sides came to an agreement last December, which will see EU boats gradually renounce 25 percent of current quotas over a five and a half-year transition period.

After this, there are annual negotiations about how much fish EU vessels may take from British waters.

Under the agreement, EU fishermen who wish to access British waters were required to apply for new licences.

The licenses were for waters farther from Britain’s coast (between 12 and 200 nautical mile from the coast) and closer territorial waters (6-12 miles from the coast).

Between 2012 and 2016, fishermen had to show a record of work there.

And the Channel Islands?

They are an important part of the overall picture, although they are distinct.

Jersey is the largest Channel Island, which is self-governing.

They are not part or the United Kingdom, but they recognize Queen Elizabeth as their head state and rely on Britain to provide defense and foreign relations.

Brexit also saw the end of the Granville Bay fishing agreement between France and Jersey. This had established rules and quotas to fish in the waters around the island.

French fishermen had to apply for new licenses in order to be eligible for the new rules.

Is it the licencing dispute?


Nearly all EU boats requesting access to Britain’s exclusive economic zone have been granted permission by Britain.

The territorial waters licences are the source of tension.

According to French figures, 100 licenses have been issued to London to French boats to use these waters near its shore. 75 other requests are still pending.

French figures show that Jersey has issued 111 permanent licenses and 31 provisional licenses, while 75 boats were rejected.

Rejected French fishermen claim that they are being unfairly restricted by red tape and bureaucracy.

They claim that small boats do not have the GPS equipment necessary to prove their previous work, while others complain about difficulty in obtaining licenses for new vessels that have replaced older models.

Are there any protests?

Yes. Yes. In June, French fishermen came to Jersey’s main port to protest. Britain sent two naval patrol boats to the region.

Wednesday saw the French government announce that it would increase customs controls and sanitary controls in trade with Britain, and ban British seafood from French ports.

These measures will take effect next Tuesday.

France also raised the possibility that electricity exports could be reduced to Jersey. It also blocked negotiations between London and EU on sensitive topics, such as trade in financial service.

Some French officials privately point out that Britain also depends on Paris to stop migrants and asylum seekers illegally crossing Channel to England.

What’s next?

French officials claim that since they began to pressurize Britain and Jersey publically over the last few month, more licences were issued.

France is also trying rally the rest of Europe to its side.

Ten of the 26 EU members signed up for a statement condemning Britain’s “incomplete” and “inappropriate” response to fishing.

Experts don’t see any improvement in British-French ties.

France is set to hold elections in April. President Emmanuel Macron wants to keep the politically strong and vocal fishing communities on his side.

Reporting by AFP news agency.