Fishing, championed by French President Emmanuel Macron, was one of the major bones of contention during the Brexit talks. Even before negotiations on the trade deal started, the French government made it clear to the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier that he had to push for stronger commitments on regulatory alignments and access to UK fishing waters in return for maintaining free trade. Mr Macron said in March last year: “In no case shall our fishermen be sacrificed for Brexit.”
In the end, the two sides reached what they both described as a “mutual compromise”, which saw the UK Government settling for a five-and-a-half-year transition “during which access is fixed”.
At the end of January, France’s Minister for the Sea, Annick Girardin, reassured people in the sector they had done well out of Brexit talks – particularly in Jersey waters.
She said: “They wanted all of their waters to themselves, but we kept all of the access.”
Not everyone in France feels the same way, though.
Mr Barnier appeared before the French Senate at the end of February and during the hearing, Paris’ true feelings about the talks came into the open.
French Senator Jean-Francois Rapin, President of the European Affairs committee, argued the Brexit deal is a “lose-lose agreement” that could cost France €650million (£557m).
He explained: “The fisheries agreement … is fundamental for our fishermen.
“But what about after 2026?
“Without an agreement we would lose €650million (£557m) of catch annually.
“We must ensure our standards are respected to guarantee fair competition and food security.
“There should be alignment in veterinary controls.
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“I’m worried about the difference in checks between member states: some ports could be tempted to reduce checks to attract business.”
The EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) that was signed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU on Christmas Eve allows Brussels to keep 75 percent of the value of the fish it now catches in UK waters, with 25 percent being returned to British fishermen over the transition period.
Stock quotas for the UK will increase over a five-year time-frame, incrementally between now and 2026.
However, EU member state-flagged vessels have no right to fish in UK waters until a licence is issued under the new rules.
Once the licence is obtained, the vessel can sail and engage in fishing activities in British waters.
A French fisherman from Boulogne-sur-Mer, a coastal city in Northern France, was reportedly waiting three weeks for the license.
Jérémy Lhomel believes Brexit is just the straw that broke the camel’s back, as he blamed the EU for overfishing and having to depend so much on UK waters.
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He told Ouest France: “If there were enough resources in our waters, we would not be so dependent on those of the English. The sea here is overexploited.”
Another fisherman from Boulugne, Mathieu Pinto, is also concerned about overfishing.
He said: “The Dutch trawlers who fish with Danish seine are ruthless.
“Their technique is unstoppable.
“They have become too efficient to give the fish any chance.”
In the Pinto family, fishing is something passed on from generation to generation.
However, something has changed.
Mr Pinto noted: “My father would go fishing two hours maximum from Boulogne and bring back 300 to 400kg of fish.
“I do a good four to five-hour drive. And if I return with 150kg I am the happiest in the world.”