| 21 May 2024, Tuesday |

Cut off from British waters, French fishermen consider selling up

Loic Fontaine, a French fisherman, is nearing a contract to sell his boat because, without access to British waters where French fleets have traditionally fished, he claims the vessel can no longer make a living.

Fontaine, on the other hand, has decided to delay signing over his boat for a few days longer as Britain and France try to resolve their dispute over fishing licenses, which brought them to the verge of trade sanctions earlier this week before France backed down.

“The English are obstinate; they refuse to give up… “It’s best to stay cordial and find a solution,” the 45-year-old told Reuters on Tuesday afternoon from the port of Calais, after a day of fishing barely 30 minutes from the coast to ensure he didn’t stray into British waters.

“If we start a naval battle, we won’t be able to stop it.”

Tensions rose last week after a British boat was detained in the port of Le Havre, prompting France to announce tighter checks on trucks and products coming from the United Kingdom, as well as a ban on British trawlers docking in French ports starting at midnight on Monday.

Britain, accused by France of not honouring a post-Brexit deal on access to British fishing grounds, has now been given until Thursday to come up with a solution.

Thirty five licences have been granted to fishing boats in the Hauts-de-France region of northern France and Fontaine’s boat, the Sainte Catherine Labouré, is one of 45 boats that is still waiting, according to a French tally.

These talks represent a last chance for Fontaine, who says that it is not worth continuing in the profession without a licence to work in British waters. This year, he saw his profits drop by 60% compared to previous years.

“(Now) we are all fishing in the same zone and it is getting less because we are going for the same resource – at some point we won’t get anything,” he said.

In the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer, fisherman Gaetan Delsart is also getting ready to watch his catch swim beyond his reach over the next months.

Like Fontaine, he is counting on the two countries to come to a solution soon in order to continue to working.

“I will hang up the keys in less than a year I think,” says the 35-year-old, who missed out on a licence as he did not have the approved tracking equipment installed on his boat to show he fished in British waters before 2016.

If he does have to sell, he is pessimistic he would get a decent price because, he said, “who would buy a boat without a licence?”

  • Reuters