French fishermen plan to blockade ports over rights dispute

Fishing industry will attempt to disrupt supply routes in run-up to Christmas

French fishermen say they are planning to blockade British goods from entering their ports as cross-Channel tensions over fishing rights in British waters continue to simmer.

The fishermen have threatened to cause major disruption ahead of the Christmas period by stopping supply routes into Calais, Dunkirk and the Channel Tunnel.

France claims Downing Street has failed to allocate enough post-Brexit licences to small trawlers who have historically fished in UK waters, including Jersey and Guernsey, just off the Normandy coast.

"We'll create as much disruption as we can, by blocking the things Britain needs the most," Laurent Merlin, a local fisherman from Boulogne-sur-Mer, told the BBC.

He claimed the action could start as early as Friday, adding that his community is “in a constant state of anxiety and anger”.

"We saw the [impact of the] gas shortage; we'll try to create another shortage of something else. We're ready to block everything: Calais, Dunkirk, the Channel Tunnel. We need this fishing licence and we'll do anything to get it."

A manager of the local fishing committee, Benoit Firmin, said he was hoping their direct action would add to the goods and labour shortages already affecting Britain.

"We haven’t even blocked yet and already there is a lack of food, petrol and staff”, he said.

Last month, the government in London announced it had approved just 12 of the 47 applications it had received from French small boats, sparking fury among the fishing community.

Those denied licences were unable to prove a track record of fishing activity in the six to 12 nautical mile zone in the years before the UK’s departure from the EU, according to a UK government spokesman.

France say it is exploring retaliatory measures against the UK over what it sees as an obstruction of its rights under the Brexit agreement.

“We are looking at what type of measures could be implemented should we see a clear and obvious willingness to breach the accord,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday. “These measures could be announced, activated, at the end of next week.”

On Friday, French Minister of Marine Affairs Annick Girardin is expected to meet with the vice-president of the European Commission and fishing organisations in a bid to help resolve the dispute.

Updated: October 15th 2021, 12:38 PM