It was only at the end of January that the European Commission confirmed that the first 59 licences for French fishing vessels to operate in the UK 6-12-mile zone were ready to be allocated.
The confirmation came via the French Department of Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture to the Hauts-de-France Fisheries Committee during the last week in January, with licences valid from 2300 on the 29th January.
The agreement to allow fishing by non-UK vessels within the UK’s 6-12 mile zone has been a highly controversial one and seen as a major climbdown by UK negotiators, so from 1st January the only condition imposed on French fishermen to operate in the 6-12 mile zone is to be able to produce a valid licence. The issue of licences is conditional on vessels being able to demonstrate a track record of fishing in the area.
“It’s a huge relief. However, not all licences have been issued. This is the first batch and about sixty licences have yet to be allocated,” said Olivier Lepretre, President of the Hauts-de-France Regional Fisheries Committee, who has a long background of standing up for the interests of the region’s fishing community.
“The pressure is still enormous on the French side, where all the fleet – netters, trawlers, seine trawlers – has had to work in the same area since 1st January and where fishing pressure has not diminished. We were particularly worried about the fishery resource and its protection in the Straits of Dover. Access to the 6–12-mile area will once again allow fishermen to fish sustainably and responsibly,” he said.
“I would also like to stress out that while French fishermen need be able to access British waters as quickly as possible, it is also essential to guarantee the British access to the European market and to facilitate trade. The sooner the better.”