French fishermen block Calais port over fishing licence row with Britain

CALAIS • French fishermen blockaded the port of Calais yesterday, temporarily preventing two ferries carrying trucks and passengers from entering, in protest against Britain's failure to issue more licences to fish in British waters.

In an effort to disrupt trade, several trawlers manoeuvred to force the DFDS and P&O ferries to reduce speed and hold outside the French port, a major entry point to the continental market for British goods.

The blockade, which lasted 90 minutes, marked an escalation in the post-Brexit row between London and Paris over fishing rights in British coastal waters.

Britain says any licences that are being withheld lack the correct documentation to issue them.

The two ferries outside the port reduced their speed until their path was clear, according to the MarineTraffic app. The protest then shifted to the Channel Tunnel, where the fishermen held up goods moving to and from Britain through the tunnel's rail link.

Dover-Calais is the shortest sea route between Britain and the European Union - at just 37km - and has been one of Britain's main arteries for European trade since the Middle Ages. Before Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, 1.8 million trucks a year were routed through Calais.

Fishermen had earlier blocked a small British cargo vessel, the Normandy Trader, from docking in the Brittany port of Saint-Malo.

France says Jersey, a British Crown dependency, has also failed to issue licences due to its fishermen under a post-Brexit deal.

The one-hour Saint-Malo protest and the larger action further east along France's coast risk reigniting a dispute between the two countries over a mutual licensing system for fishing vessels.

They are also embroiled in a row over cross-Channel migration.

With Britain's exit from the EU, the two sides agreed to set up a licensing system for granting fishing vessels access to each other's waters.

Paris says London and the Channel Island of Jersey are not honouring the agreement. Britain says it is respecting the post-Brexit deal.

In October, France briefly seized a British scallop dredger off its northern coast for allegedly operating without a legitimate permit. Both countries have this year sent patrol vessels to the waters off Jersey.

French President Emmanuel Macron has accused Britain of pushing his country's patience and said the government would not yield in the dispute.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2021, with the headline French fishermen block Calais port over fishing licence row with Britain. Subscribe