Breton fishermen fear being shut out of British waters after Brexit

A Breton fisherman repairing nets in front of Île de Saint-Cado, Brittany. [shutterstock.com/it/image-photo/…]

Fishermen from France’s Brittany region have asked the European Commission to address the uncertainty caused by Brexit for the fisheries sector, ensuring access by European fishermen to fish in British waters.

On Monday (20 January), a delegation of Breton fishermen met Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius to complain about the total allowable catches (TACs) in the Celtic Sea that EU fisheries ministers agreed in December last year.

They particularly asked to consider some reasonable alternatives to setting a quota that will limit the catches of the vulnerable stock cod, which, however, will make fishermen’s life more difficult if they want to continue fishing in this area.

On the sidelines of the meeting, they also raised the topic of Brexit and how UK’s long goodbye to the European Union will affect also the French fleet.

Dominique Thomas, a Breton fisherman and president of the producers’ organisation Cobrenord, told EURACTIV the risk that Brexit carries to the French fisheries sector is mainly of lacking access to the waters and the fish resources.

“I, for one, have two 21-metre fishing boats and I catch 90% of the fish in British water. There’s no little pressure,” he said.

He added that the EU executive should ensure an agreement with the UK to get access to their territorial waters, otherwise they might seek some kind of retaliation.

“If we cannot go to the British waters, we will not accept British seafood entering France. And I don’t think this is good,” he suggested.

According to Olivier Le Nezet, president of Brittany’s Regional Committee for Maritime Fisheries and Marine Farming in Brittany, roughly 60% of the fish species caught in the UK waters are fished by European fleets.

“It is clear that [Brexit] is a problem, as Brittany is the closest region to the UK,” he said.

For the Breton MEP Pierre Karleskind, who hosted the delegation and set the meeting with Commissioner Sinkevičius, it is crucial to understand what will be the conditions of access to British waters after 31st December 2020, when the transition period will be over.

“If the European fishermen can’t go there, they’ll fish in the Gulf of Biscay or in the Southern part of the Channel, but there are some other fishermen there,” he said, adding that this could increase confrontation and clashes in the open sea.

“But this is also a real danger for fish stocks sustainability, as you might fish too much in a certain area,” he said.

He added that keeping the fisheries sector in a sustainable management framework is the most important thing and that he doesn’t think it is in the UK’s interest to erase the efforts that have been done in this field over the past years.

At last October’s European summit, the European Commission’s Brexit negotiators, Michel Barnier, said that if the Brexit agreement was going to be finally ratified, the EU should give some priority to the conclusion of a new fisheries agreement with the UK.

He also pointed out that this agreement would provide for access by European fishermen to fish in British waters, as well as access for British processed products to the EU market.

“The two aspects should be treated together and we should be constructive,” Barnier said.

He recalled that Danish fishermen, for instance, catch 50 to 60% of their fish in UK waters under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). “Many fishermen, there and in Ireland, are highly dependent on British territorial waters,” he said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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