French fishermen voice relief at Brexit deal

LILLE, FRANCE (AFP) – French fishing officials on Friday welcomed a post-Brexit trade accord that will allow them to continue plying British waters after January 1, avoiding a “no deal” that could have threatened the livelihoods of thousands.

“It’s a huge relief for fishermen – It’s a win-win deal,” president of the fishing committee for the northern Hauts-de-France region Olivier Lepretre told AFP.

“We’re going to lose some of our quotas, which is annoying but it’s not a death knell,” he said.

Access to Britain’s rich fishing waters was a major sticking point in the post-Brexit talks, and the agreement struck on Thursday will require European Union (EU) fishing vessels to relinquish 25 per cent of their current quotas over the next five and a half years.

After that, there will be annual negotiations on the amount of fish that EU vessels can take from British waters.

Reaching an accord was seen as vital for Boulogne-sur-Mer, France’s largest fishing port, where some 5,000 jobs depend on an industry that generated revenues of EUR80 million (USD97 million) last year.

“The biggest worry for fishermen in Hauts-de-France, as well as the entire sector, was that we would no longer have access to British waters. That is no longer the case,” Lepretre’s vice president Stephane Pinto told France 3 television.

Head of the national CNPMEM fisheries association Jean-Luc Hall said French boats capture 30 to 70 per cent of their hauls in British territory.

“Even if it isn’t perfect, it seems we’ll still be able to work – this gives us a little bit of visibility,” he told AFP.

The French government has also announced measures to support fishermen and fishmongers impacted by the deal, including up to EUR30,000 in individual aid over the coming years.

Newhaven fishing boat skipper Neil Whitney and deckhand Nathan Harman sort fish aboard the fishing boat off the south-east coast of England. PHOTO: AFP