British fishing boat captain to stand trial in France

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Rennes (France) (AFP) – French prosecutors on Friday ordered a trial against the captain of a British trawler detained for operating without a license, deepening a dispute over fishing rights that could spark a trade war as early as next week.

On Wednesday, maritime authorities sequestered the vessel in the Anglo-Norman port of Le Havre, saying an on-site check had revealed that it had recovered more than two tons of scallops in French waters without a proper license.

“The captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan was summoned to a hearing at the Le Havre court on August 11, 2022,” said the city’s deputy prosecutor, Cyrille Fournier, in a statement.

He faces charges of “unauthorized fishing in French waters by a boat outside the European Union”, he added, punishable by a maximum fine of 75,000 euros ($ 87,000) as well as possible “administrative sanctions”.

The owner of the trawler reiterated on Friday that he believed the boat had a valid license to fish in French waters.

“It appears to be an administrative misunderstanding or a different interpretation of the rules,” Andrew Brown, director of the Scottish company Macduff Shellfish, told AFP.

New dead end?

“They are very technical, they are on the details of the permit. Our priority is to get the crew out,” he said.

Currently they are staying on the Cornelis Gert Jan, where “there is a lot of food and space for them”, he added.

Britain and France have been at loggerheads for months over new licensing rules for EU vessels wishing to operate in the waters around Britain and in particular the Channel Islands.

Paris warned that unless license applications were approved for dozens of French fishermen, it would ban British boats from offloading their catches in French ports from November 2 and impose tedious customs and health checks on all products imported from Great Britain to France.

Authorities have also suggested that France could increase electricity prices for Jersey, which depends on mainland France for its power supply.

Envoy from France summoned

Britain summoned the French ambassador to London on Friday for consultations to explain the “threats”, just hours after French Prime Minister Jean Castex offered to open talks to defuse the conflict.

Environment Secretary George Eustice on Friday accused France of “inflammatory language” and did not rule out preventing French vessels from landing their catches in the UK in retaliation.

Asked about the assertion by French Europe Minister Clément Beaune that the only language Britain understood was “the language of force,” Eustice told the BBC: “It’s completely inflammatory and this is the wrong way to do it. “

“We will see what they do on Tuesday but we reserve the right to respond in a proportionate manner,” he said.

Envoy from France summoned

The French fleets accuse the British authorities as well as its Jersey protectorate of using Brexit as an excuse to prevent them from obtaining licenses for the waters they say they have exploited for years.

London denied these allegations and promised “an appropriate and calibrated response” to the French measures, the British fishing industry depending on French ports as a gateway to Europe, its main export market.

Tensions over license applications had already degenerated into a brief naval stalemate last May, when dozens of French trawlers gathered outside the port of Saint-Hélier in Jersey.

Fears of a blockade prompted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to send two Royal Navy gunboats to the region, with France then sending two of its own coastal patrol vessels before the French trawlers withdrew.


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