French authorities have pulled back from their threat to block the entry of British seafood products to allow talks in a fight over fishing rights to continue.
The widely reported move comes before a meeting on Thursday between Britain’s Brexit Minister David Frost and France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune.
The government of Jersey on Monday said it issued 49 temporary fishing licenses to French fishing boats in an attempt to resolve a fight that would have seen British fish catches blocked from entering French ports.
The island of Jersey, an autonomous territory with its own government, but a dependency of the British crown, became entangled in a disagreement over the number of fishing licenses granted to French fisherman after the United Kingdom left the European Union's orbit at the end of 2020.
The UK seafood industry feared a fight over fishing rights with France would hit prices in the run-up to the vital Christmas selling period, when exporters typically expect brisk business and strong returns.
There were also fears of a repeat of the logistics mess that hit the sector earlier in the year, when the weight of newly required Brexit paperwork, combined with severe delays at borders, forced producers to slash fish prices and led to lost business for UK exporters supplying EU-based customers.
As tension mounted in the dispute, times for UK fish consignments to get through customs began increasing as French authorities tightened the screws.
From midnight on Monday, France vowed to prevent UK vessels entering French ports where their catches are landed and sold on to lucrative markets in Europe including its largest seafood processing hub, Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France.
The 49 temporary licenses are in addition to the 113 permanent licenses already issued: 47 in May and 66 last week.
Vessels will be able to fish in Jersey waters until Jan. 31, 2022 to grant time to provide further data, which authorities say is necessary to secure a permanent license under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.
In total, Jersey has issued 162 permanent and temporary licenses to French vessels to date.
In a statement, the Jersey government said it remains open to receiving further data for vessels that currently have no license, and new applications can be submitted at any time.
A fight over the number of fishing licenses granted to French fishing boats operating in British waters began almost as soon as the bells rang in 2021.
Facing reelection in April next year, French President Emmanuel Macron is keen to retain the support of coastal communities, with his rival -- the far right candidate Marine Le Pen -- certain to try to take advantage of any perceived weakness in defending French fishermen.
At the same time, the government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to show it is living up to its pledge to control British waters following his Brexit trade deal, which came under fire from the UK fishing industry.
Last week, France detained a scallop trawler operated by Macduff Shellfish, a subsidiary of Canada's Clearwater Seafoods, with the captain expected to face a court hearing next year for allegedly operating without the correct paperwork in French waters.
Fears that action to block UK fish landings could have overshadowed the all-important COP 26 environmental summit in Glasgow may even have been a factor in the thinking of the granting of the licenses.
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