France has been at the centre of the Brexit debate since trade talks began with President Emmanuel Macron attempting to preserve his country’s access to UK fishing waters. Mr Macron has vowed to “fight” for fishermen in France, whose livelihoods could be hugely affected if a deal can’t be reached and they lose access to UK waters. According to NAFC Marine Centre’s data, UK vessels land 32 percent of fish in its waters, while EU states combined take 43 percent. Norway, which is not an EU member state, takes 21 percent.
This means there are many countries in the bloc where fishermen depend on British waters to allow their businesses to succeed.
Between 2012 and 2016 for example, France caught 120,000 tonnes of fish worth £171million (€192million), according to Marine Management Organisation figures.
The Netherlands and Denmark both caught around £90million’s worth (€101million).
But the UK only gained £17million’s worth (€19million) of landing from French waters in the same period.
The concern in Boulogne-sur-Mer, one of France’s major fishing ports, lays bare what is at stake for not just Brits but also the EU in Brexit negotiations.
DW, a German broadcaster, spoke to Olivier Lepretre of the French Fishermen’s Association.
He used a map to highlight just how small the waters for EU vessels to operate could be if a no deal scenario is the conclusion to negotiations.
He said: “If there is no deal, the French fishing boats and European fishing boats will all meet in this small area.
“The Belgian boats, the Dutch and the French.
“We will then systematically overfish, and then this will quickly lead to bankruptcy.”
Fears of congestion in European waters were echoed by Stephane Pinto, fisherman and vice-president of the fisheries committee, who said: “If tomorrow there is no deal Brexit, meaning a hard Brexit, all the flotillas of Europe, the Belgians, the Dutch, and the French will all be in the same fishing zone.
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“And in terms of cohabitation that would be difficult. I think there would be a naval battle.”
A startling Yellowhammer report, released last year, raised these fears of clashes between fishermen post-Brexit.
It warned that 300 foreign boats would be fishing in British waters on day one of a no deal Brexit, threatening violent clashes at sea and chaos at ports. Such scenes risked reviving hostilities of the previous year when French fishermen attacked British boats in the Channel in a row over scallops.
The document explained: “Up to 282 EU and European Economic Area nations’ fishing vessels could enter illegally or are already fishing in UK waters: up to 129 vessels in English waters, 100 in Scottish waters, 40 in Welsh waters and 13 in Northern Irish waters on day one.
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“This is likely to cause anger and frustration in the UK catching sector, which could lead to clashes between fishing vessels and an increase in non-compliance in the domestic fleet.”
It added that the hostility could result in the blockading of ports.
Conservative MP and Brexiteer, Andrew Bridgen, told Express.co.uk that he believes the EU will back down in talks.
He said: “You can face the EU down, and if Boris didn’t give into the EU when we didn’t have a majority, what makes them think we will now that we have?
“We want a free trade agreement, but if not we will do deals with people who want to do a deal with us.”