French fishermen have ended their protest off Jersey's main port of St Hellier after talks aimed at resolving a dispute that has seen Britain and France send naval vessels to patrol the waters around the islands.
A flotilla of about 60 fishing boats returned to Normandy on Thursday afternoon after the talks but Downing Street said its two armed patrol ships would remain in place as a precautionary measure.
"We are pleased that French fishing boats have now left the vicinity of Jersey. Given the situation is resolved for now, the Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessels will prepare to return to port in the UK. We remain on standby to provide any further assistance Jersey requests.
"The Trade and Co-operation Agreement brought in changes to fishing arrangements between the UK and the EU. Jersey authorities have a right to regulate fisheries in their waters under this agreement and we support them in exercising those rights. We will work with Jersey to support the discussions underway with the European Commission, " a government spokesman said.
The fishermen are protesting against new conditions imposed by Jersey for licenses to fish in waters where hundreds of French boats have operated for decades.
The European Commission said Britain had breached the agreement by failing to give advance warning or to justify the new conditions, which demand GPS evidence of fishing history over years, specify the kind of equipment that can be used and sometimes drastically limit the number of days French fishermen can operate in Jersey’s waters.
“Any proposed management conditions have to be notified in advance to the other party, giving them sufficient time to assess and react to the proposed measures,” a commission official said.
“The commission has clearly indicated to the UK that the provisions of the EU-UKTCA have not been respected. Until the UK authorities provide further justifications on the new conditions, these new conditions should not apply.”
French minister for maritime affairs Annick Girardin warned this week that Jersey's electricity supply, 95 per cent of which comes from France, could be cut off in retaliation for limiting access to its waters. The country's EU affairs minister Clement Beaune said on Thursday that regardless of Britain's naval deployment, France would defend the rights of its fishermen and the livelihoods that depend on their continued right to fish in Jersey's waters.
“We won’t be intimidated by these manoeuvres. Our wish is not to have tensions, but to have a quick and full application of the deal. That’s the case for Jersey and that’s the case for the licences we are waiting for in the Hauts de France. We’re working nonstop with the European Commission and British authorities,” he said.
Jersey, 22km off the French coast, is a self-governing crown dependency which is not part of the United Kingdom and was never part of the EU. Like its neighbour Guernsey and the Isle of Man, Jersey's foreign policy is governed by Britain.
Its fishing waters come under the fishing chapter of the TCA and although London says Jersey can set its own licensing conditions, legislation passed at Westminster last year allows the British government to impose new fishing rules on the island.
Jersey's external relations minister Ian Gorst, who has suggested that the dispute is the result of misunderstandings and teething problems with the new rules, said discussions with the French fishermen had been positive.
“We agreed that all sides remain committed to engaging with our partners in the EU and France to resolve the concerns arising from the issuing of fishing licenses under the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, which led to today’s protest,” he said.