French fishermen block UK lorries in Brexit protest

Dozens protest in 'warning shot' over Britain wanting to take back control of its waters

French fishermen block lorries carrying UK-landed fish to protest for the slow issuance of licenses to fish inside British waters, at the fishing port in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, April 23, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

More than 100 French fishermen are taking part in a blockade to stop lorries carrying fish from the UK in a protest against a Brexit fishing deal they dismiss as a sham.

Since Thursday night, protesters massed at a checkpoint where lorries carrying fish from Britain into the northern French ports of Dunkirk and Calais are subject to hygiene checks, now that the UK has left the EU.

French fishermen hold a banner as they block lorries carrying UK-landed fish to protest for the slow issuance of licenses to fish inside British waters, at the fishing port in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, April 23, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

The fishermen set fire to pallets and tyres to stay warm at the Boulogne-sur-Mer checkpoint, in France's busiest fishing centre, leading to British lorries boycotting the port and changing their routes.

British-flagged ships operated by Dutch companies, which often unload fish caught in UK waters at French ports, also changed course to Belgium, the harbourmaster's office said.

A second group of protesters was at Boulogne's fish market.

"This action is a warning shot," said Olivier Lepretre, head of the regional fishing committee.

"If nothing happens at the European level, we will shift up a gear."

Mr Lepretre said the UK authorities granted licences to only 22 of the 120 boats seeking permission to fish between six and 12 nautical miles from the British coast.

Local mayor Frederic Cuvillier offered his support to the fishermen, calling for the EU to wake up and protect the European fishing industry from the effects of Brexit.

He said the situation was desperate.

"The cruel truth is that there is no fishing deal," said Mr Cuvillier, a former Socialist fishing minister.

Fishing became a hugely fraught issue in negotiations late last year over Britain and the EU's post-Brexit trade relationship.

The UK said it wanted to take back control of its waters, while EU coastal states sought guarantees that their fleets could keep fishing in British territory.

London and Brussels eventually reached a compromise that will involve European boats gradually relinquishing 25 per cent of their current quotas over a five-and-a-half-year transition period.

British fishermen, many of whom sell their catches in Europe and rely on rapid transport, also complained vehemently after the UK exited the EU, saying that extra red tape is threatening their livelihoods.

British fisherman Steve Horsley, 66, told The National the UK fishing industry is being destroyed.

“I’m hardly making any money now. If the fishing industry stays like this there will be nothing left of it," he said.

"At the beginning of this year we have seen Norwegian, Dutch and French vessels fishing in the waters.

“There is no light at the end of the tunnel. In my 50 years at sea I have seen the best and worst of the industry and it is now at its worst.”

Earlier this year, shellfish fishermen in the UK revealed that many fear for their future as a result of the EU banning their exports.

Since Britain left the EU on January 1, Class B oysters, scallops, clams, cockles and mussels cannot be sold to the EU unless they have been purified in accordance with water regulatory standards.

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