GRANVILLE, France (AP) — Soon-to-be father Hermann Outrequin felt optimistic in 2019 when he gave up his fishing company job of 16 years to go independent. The Normandy fisherman wanted a fresh start to have time for his newborn son.
But now a political spat over fishing rights between Paris and London has thrown cold water over his plans.
Staring out across the cold English Channel from the Granville coastline into the pre-dawn darkness, Outrequin says he regrets that decision and worries for his future.
The 43-year-old has just been denied yet another permit to fish in U.K. waters — which account for one third of his regular fishing grounds and include some of the richest.
“So, I don’t have a license. I don’t have the right anymore. The English have turned their backs on us,” he said.
The all-important U.K. licenses are at the center of the dispute following Britain’s split with the European Union earlier this year. Before Brexit, French fishermen could fish deep inside British waters. Now they need to be granted a special license from the British government or the self-governing British Crown dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey to fish in certain areas.
Fishing is a tiny industry economically, but one that looms large symbolically for both Britain and France, which have long and cherished maritime traditions.
Paris says many vessels have been denied permits for waters where they have long sailed. Britain contends that it has granted 98% of applications from EU vessels — and now the dispute concerns just a few dozen French boats with insufficient paperwork.
France has threatened to bar British boats from some of its ports and tighten checks on vessels and trucks carrying British goods if more French vessels aren’t licensed to fish in U.K. waters soon. Paris has also suggested it might restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands, which are heavily dependent on French electricity.
While the dispute has threatened cross-Channel relations, it also has real consequences for France’s ordinary unsung fishermen.
“I’m not asking for the moon,” Outrequin said, zipped up in a thermal jacket as he prepared to go out to trawl for scallops.
Outrequin’s was a regular story of a father-to-be. The secure fishing job he had held since 2003 at Abeilles International, a unit of the Groupe Bourbon company, required him to be away for long lengths of time. He and his wife Marielis decided that he would need to be back in the evenings to help with his newborn son Paul. So he gave up the protection of the job with the industry giant in 2019 to buy his own boat called the Santa Clara and go it alone.
But new paperwork needed for the post-Brexit seascape put a spanner in the works. He now regrets making that decision.
Outrequin said that the Channel Islands authorities which grant licenses in his fishing area now require fishermen to show they have fished for a minimum of 11 days each year in their waters between 2017-2020.
But since Outrequin’s company did not exist for half of that period, he cannot possibly qualify.
Jersey, which is only 14 miles off the coast of France, issued earlier this week 49 temporary licenses to French boats. But that represents just a fraction of those still unlicensed.
Jabbing at a chart of the Channel with his finger, Outrequin vents his frustration. “Before we could go and fish here, but now it’s over. All this part here, over.”
Many fishermen in northern France say their livelihoods depend on access to British waters, where they chase mackerel, whiting, squid and other species. Outrequin is despondent about the future, and lays hope in French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron is expected to seek re-election in April’s presidential vote in France, and will likely be wanting to project an image of strength and steadfastness ahead of that.
“The problem is,” Outrequin said, “will Macron actually do something about it? He has to do something.”
Adamson reported from Paris