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UK-France fishing row talks set to continue in the coming days

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By Euronews  with AFP
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United Kingdom's Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost speaks with the media as he arrives for a lunch with the EU's Maros Sefcovic
United Kingdom's Brexit negotiator Lord David Frost speaks with the media as he arrives for a lunch with the EU's Maros Sefcovic   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

French and UK ministers met on Thursday to discuss the ongoing fishing dispute between the two countries with more talks now scheduled for "early next week".

The row between London and Paris over fishing licences escalated last month with France warning of retaliatory measures and detaining a British vessel caught fishing in French waters without a licence.

France's Europe Minister, Clément Beaune, said on Twitter his meeting on Thursday with Britain's Brexit Minister, David Frost, aimed to "relaunch a necessary dialogue and ensure the implementation of our agreements".

A British government spokesperson said at the end of the meeting that "as expected, they discussed the full range of difficulties arising from the application of the agreements between the UK and the EU. Both sides have set out their positions and concerns."

They added that further talks will take place "early next week".

What is the dispute about?

The French government says that several fishing licences requested by French fishermen have not been approved and accuses the UK of not respecting the deal struck before the country's final departure from the bloc.

The post-Brexit agreement with the European Union said fishermen could continue to fish in British waters if they obtained a licence and proved that they previously were fishing there.

Paris says however that a lot of the French boats who fish in British waters are small, artisanal, enterprises that do not necessarily have the technology to prove they had accessed British waters for years.

According to official UK government figures released on Wednesday, all 736 French applications to fish in the UK's waters -- 12-200 nautical miles away from the coast -- have been approved.

In the sensitive 6-12 nautical mile zone, however, 31 of 50 licences for vessels under 12 metres are still pending as are three of 88 applications by vessels over 12 metres. This suggests that the UK has approved about three-quarters of French requests in this zone.

The Island of Jersey has meanwhile approved 113 of 217 applications with a further 49 temporary licences granted until the end of January 2022 to allow these vessels more time to supply the necessary evidence.

The dispute has seen France threaten to close its ports to some British vessels, increase customs checks on goods coming from the United Kingdom and cut the power supply to the island of Jersey — a self-governing dependency of the British Crown.

The UK has flatly denied the accusation and branded the French threats "disappointing and disproportionate". It also argued that if France moved ahead with its threats, it would be in breach of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.

France originally planned for the measures to come into force on November 2 but withheld their implementation to allow for more talks.

A UK government spokesperson said earlier this week that Britain is "ready to continue intensive discussions on fisheries, including considering new evidence to support the remaining licence applications."

"We welcome France's acknowledgement that in-depth discussions are needed to resolve the range of difficulties in the UK/EU relationship," they added.

The two men will then travel to Brussels on Friday for a meeting at the European Commission, according to French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal.

"My colleague Clement Beaune will meet Mr Frost (Thursday) in Paris on this subject, and there will be another meeting on Friday at the European Commission," he told reporters on Wednesday.

"I want to remind you that this is first and foremost a European issue and therefore the meeting at the European Commission will be very important and we will have to wait" for its outcome before any sanctions are implemented, he insisted.

According to an EU source, Frost is due to meet Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic to discuss the Northern Ireland protocol and not fishing.

Ahead of the talks, a Scottish trawler detained in France for a week for fishing in French waters without a licence was released.

The Cornelis Gert Jan fishing vessel left the port of Le Havre late on Wednesday afternoon after a decision by the Rouen court of appeal, which authorised the boat "to leave Le Havre immediately without having to pay bail," the captain's lawyer Mathieu Croix told AFP.

The state had requested the detention of the trawler pending the payment of a €150,000 bond.

Macduff Shellfish, which owns the trawler, said in a statement on its website that they "are pleased to have this matter resolved and delighted that our crew and vessel are now able to return home."

"The crew have acted with calmness and professionalism throughout the entire incident. They are in good spirits, looking forward to returning to their loved ones and are grateful for all the messages of support received from the British public," the statement also said.

The 36-metres-long trawler was diverted to Le Havre last Wednesday after a control by French authorities found that it had fished more than two tonnes of scallops without a licence.

According to the prosecutor, the boat's captain faces a €75,000 fine and administrative sanctions.

French authorities have increased controls amidst the dispute over fishing rights with the UK.

Alain Caillier, Managing Director at the Port de Boulogne told Euronews that he doesn't understand the actions of the British.

"We are not angry with the British," Caillier said. "They are our neighbours. They are just 40 kilometres away. We don't even understand the British challenges. We are suffering a lot because we cannot prove every boat's fishing history in the area and we don't understand why the British aren't respecting the Brexit agreement."

The head of Calais port also said: "Everyone will be punished. Everyone. the UK, France, fishermen, Calais Port. Dover port also. Everyone - for such a silly problem."