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British skipper faces trial and huge £63,000 fine over French fishing licence row

The captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan has been charged with ‘acts of unauthorised sea fishing in French maritime waters by a third party vessel to the European Union’

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France seizes British boat amidst Brexit fishing row

The skipper of a British trawler seized by the French during an escalating row over fishing licences is to go on criminal trial and faces a fine equivalent to more than £63,000.

Prosecutors in Le Havre on Friday confirmed that the captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan will appear before judges on August 11.

He has been charged with ‘acts of unauthorised sea fishing in French maritime salt waters by a third party vessel to the European Union ’.

It comes after Catherine Colonna, France’s ambassador to the UK, was summoned to the Foreign Office in London to explain ‘disappointing and disproportionate’ threats of retaliation by Paris over what it claims is a lack of licences for French boats to fish in UK waters.

The skipper of the Cornelis, who had not been publicly identified, is specifically accused of having fished 2,160 kg of scallops in the French exclusive economic zone without holding a valid licence.

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Prosecutors in Le Havre on Friday confirmed that the captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan will appear before judges on August 11



“He now faces a fine of €75,000 (£63,000) as well as administrative sanctions,” said le Havre deputy prosecutor Cyrille Fournier.

Mr Fournier said: “The captain of the Cornelis Gert Jan was given a summons by maritime police to appear at the hearing of the Criminal Court of Le Havre on August 11, 2022.”

The prosecutor added: “After verification, the captain of the vessel did not have the authorisation required to fish in the French exclusive economic zone.”

This was despite claims by the owners of the Cornelis that the boat had been fishing legally when it was detained on Wednesday night.

Andrew Brown, director of Scottish firm MacDuff Shellfish, said she was being used as a ‘pawn’ by angry French ministers.







The skipper of a British trawler seized by the French during an escalating row over fishing licences is to go on criminal trial



Mr Brown said before news of the court action: “MacDuff’s fishing activity is entirely legal. We are looking to the UK government to defend the rights of the UK fishing fleet and ensure that the fishing rights provided under the Brexit fishing agreement are fully respected by the EU.”

On Friday morning, the Cornelis was still moored in Le Havre – still banned from leaving the port.

The French ambassador has been summoned the Foreign Office in London later today to explain why the boat was detained.

The crew of the Cornelis Gert Jan are still onboard as the legal battle rumbles on.

It is moored up in a quiet area of the harbour with a sign saying “no unauthorised entry” on the gangplank.

Boat owner Andrew Brown insisted they had all the right paperwork and the vessel should be allowed to leave as soon as possible.

The boat had headed out from Shoreham, Sussex, early on Tuesday morning, and had expected to spend five days catching scallops in the English Channel.







The British boat at the centre of the post Brexit fishing row remained impounded in Le Havre this morning – still banned from leaving the port



Her seizure is the latest move by France in an ongoing row with the UK over who has rights to fishing grounds in the Channel now Britain has left the EU.

The Cornelis’s haul has been thrown back overboard by the French, while her skipper spoke to an examining magistrate with the help of a French lawyer.

Gendarmes on board the Athos – the police boat named after one of the Three Musketeers which detained the Cornelis– also fined a second, unidentified British boat on Wednesday.

Her skipper was dealt with for initially refusing police permission to board, but then left to return to the UK.



Clement Beaune, France’s Europe minister, has said “we need to speak the language of force” to Britain because it is “the only thing this government understands.”

He was immediately accused of “sabre rattling” by British critics, as was Annick Girardin, the Maritime Minister in Paris, who said: “It’s not war, but it is a fight.”

Referencing Brexit, Ms Girardin said: “We are going to ask the European Commission to tell the United Kingdom that it is not respecting its agreement and therefore that retaliatory measures can be put in place.”

Before Brexit, French fishermen had free rights to fish in UK waters under EU law and only had to apply to their own government for a licence.

But earlier this year the new Brexit Agreement came into force, meaning French fishermen now need to apply to the UK for a licence.

All vessels that fished in UK waters ‘for at least four years between 2012 and 2016’ should be granted the same level of access until at least 2026, when it will be up to the UK and France to negotiate new deals.

The UK is asking French boats to provide tracking and fishing quota data for those years to qualify for a permit.

The French have protested, saying smaller vessels under 12m do not collect this data and are being unfairly punished. The Brexit Agreement makes no mention of such data, they argue.

British environment minister George Eustice told Parliament the seizure of the boat is being ‘urgently’ looked into, but ruled out any ‘tit for tat’ retaliation.

“UK vessels with their licence to fish in EU waters should be allowed to do so uninterrupted,” he said.


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