Brexit Why France Is Raising The Stakes Over Fishing

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Brexit Why France Is Raising The Stakes Over Fishing

In a cramped cabin, with the green waters of the Channel bobbing and tipping outside, Laurent Merlin listens to messages from Dutch and Belgian fishermen crackling over the radio.

Sharing their positions helps avoid any clashes – a technique that works better at sea than at summits.

With less than three months to go until Britain leaves the EU single market, fishing has become a key sticking point in negotiating a trade deal to replace it. Especially when it comes to access for EU fishermen in UK waters.

European leaders are due to meet on Thursday to try to find a way forward.

Laurent Merlin is based in Boulogne-sur-Mer, a city at the heart of France’s fishing industry.

His grandfather used to fish in the waters off Scotland, while his father fished in the Channel.

‘We might decide to flex our muscles’

Today, three-quarters of Laurent’s own crabs and lobsters come from British fishing grounds. He’s worried that the ebb and flow of post-Brexit trade negotiations could sink boats like his if they’re denied access.

“If we can’t enter British waters, it’s practically the end of our profession,” he said.

‘Fishermen are for no deal’

France has so far refused any change to the current arrangements, saying it won’t abandon its fishermen. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” the government says.

Annaïg Le Meur is a Brittany MP from President Emmanuel Macron’s party. “I think the fishermen are for no deal,” she told me. “They are afraid, and when people are afraid they choose either yes or no, not the solutions in between.”

But talk to fishermen in Boulogne, and many say they would accept a compromise on their British quotas, rather than lose access completely.

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Stéphane Pinto, the deputy head of the regional fishing committee in Boulogne, told me: “It would be a lot more acceptable to have 80% of the catch in British waters than nothing at all.”

What about 60% of the catch?

“Errrr…. that’s not viable,” he said. “But with some sort of financial compensation? Maybe.”

Brexit Why France Is Raising The Stakes Over Fishing

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