‘Can’t wait anymore’ France’s fishermen threaten ‘turbo’ escalation to unlock licences

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The port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, one of France’s biggest fishing ports, has been blocked to British boats and lorries since Thursday evening. Local fishermen have been lamenting the delays from the British Government to issue the fishing licence EU boats have been needing to enter British waters since Brexit in January. Olivier Leprêtre, the president of the Regional Fisheries Committee, insisted the fishermen are ready for further escalations if the delay is not resolved quickly.

Speaking to RTL France, Mr Leprêtre said: “So, this is the first shot, hoping that this moves a little. 

“If we have to, we will take action a second time, but at turbo speed, because we can no longer afford to wait anymore.

“So the hundred unlicensed boats are forced to stay in French waters and the concern of having all these boats in the French zone is that there are not only French boats.

“There are Belgian ships, there are Dutch ships. We all find ourselves in the same area bending resources. This is the hidden tip of the iceberg.”

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Mr Leprêtre insisted securing licences from the British Government would ensure fishermen operating in the same area off the French coast could “balance” access to resources and avoid over-fishing.

He added: “Having the licenses and boats in British waters allowed for a balance for the resource when we were all in the same area.”

The post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union allowed the bloc’s fishermen to keep fishing deep into British waters, but vessels were required to apply for a licence before being allowed back to fish.

Licenses were expected to be issued swiftly but some 80 percent of the French fleet in the northern Hauts-de-France region, have yet to be issued with a license, according to the local fishing community.

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Bruno Margolle, who heads the main fishermen’s cooperative said: “We thought it would be a matter of days.

“Four months on we’ve barely moved forwards”

Some 80 fishermen set off flares on the Boulogne docks, blocked two trucks with a barricade of wood pallets and barrels, and put up a sign that read: “You want to keep your waters??? OK … So, keep your fish!!!”.

Many of the skippers struggling to obtain a license were unable to meet the British demand for electronic data showing they had fished in UK waters during the five years running up to Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership.

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A Government spokeswoman said: “The UK maintains a consistent, evidence-based approach to licensing EU vessels using information supplied by the European Commission.

“We do not recognise the figures that have been shared by the French fishing industry and consider this reaction to be unjustified.

“Our concerns regarding the planned protest action have been raised directly with the French authorities.”

France had been among the leading EU members to oppose a Brexit trade agreement with the United Kingdom unless a clear agreement on fisheries was reached.

An agreement was finally reached in December after nine months of negotiations, with the deal EU fishermen would be able to continue catching in British waters in exchange for the UK slowly regaining full control over a larger fish quota in the next five years.

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