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Macduff trawler detained in France sparks row over post-Brexit fishing rights

By Ewan Malcolm

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A MACDUFF Shellfish trawler has become the centre of debate around post-Brexit fishing rights after being detained in Normandy.

The Cornelis Gert Jan whis is currently being held in France.
The Cornelis Gert Jan whis is currently being held in France.

French authorities detained the vessel on Wednesday, October 27 after arguing that it did not have the necessary licence to fish in French waters.

Andrew Brown, Director of Public Affairs for Macduff Shellfish, said: "We're still content that we were fishing entirely legally.

"We're quite surprised and shocked that it has got to this level. It's maybe due to the political context that we're working under at the moment.

"The French reasoning is that we were fishing without a valid licence so that's the point of contention. We believe we were, but there has been some sort of administrative misinterpretation of the rules so that's what we are trying to resolve. As you can imagine that's quite a technical kind of issue which will require lawyers to be looking over the details."

The Cornelis Gert Jan, which sails out of West Sussex, was fishing for scallops when it was ordered into a French port by local authorities. The crew remains with the vessel in Normandy and it is still unclear when they will be allowed to leave.

"Obviously our primary concern is to get the crew and vessel home safely," Mr Brown said.

"Hopefully we will know a little more after today (October 29). There's further meetings going on between the skipper, legal advisors and the French authorities so we hope to have clarity today on when we can get the vessel out. Obviously we're hoping to get it out as soon as we possibly can so that's what we're focusing on."

Access to French waters for fishing is included through the awarding of licences as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) set out between the EU and UK following Brexit.

Banff and Buchan MP David Duguid said that it was important that the Macduff trawler's detainment does not lead to "concessions" with the French Government.

He said: "I've been in discussions with the industry and with UK Government ministers on this issue.

"The French appear to be accusing the UK of not following the terms of the TCA but I'm assured that we are merely following the terms for awarding licences that was agreed.

"The language we are hearing from the French Government is very unhelpful.

"In my discussions with the industry, everyone agrees this escalation of the debate is helping no one.

"I'm working with the UK Government to make sure that we don't grant concessions to the French beyond those agreed in the TCA."

French maritime minister Annick Girardin maintains that the vessel was found to be fishing in the Bay of Seine off the coast of Le Havre without a proper licence.

However, Environment Secretary George Eustice said that the vessel was included on a list of boats fishing in French waters and that this was provided to the EU. He has since urged France to release the vessel and drop its "unacceptable" threats.

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