A British fishing vessel was hijacked by France and another was fined, amid an escalating post-Brexit fishing rights controversy.
French Navy Minister Annick Girardin said the ships were warned during checks off Le Havre during the night.
He said the former did not comply right away and the latter was not allowed to fish in French waters, so he was arrested.
A UK government spokesperson said it was “urgently” reviewing reports on French law enforcement.
Brexit Minister Lord Frost said on Wednesday that French threats to block UK boats from ports were “disappointing”.
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- Who Really Owns the Fishing Rights in the UK?
- What does the Brexit agreement mean for fisheries?
Mrs. Girardin said on Twitter one of the British fishing vessels was caught fishing in the Seine Bay without the proper permits.
He said the boat was diverted to the port of Le Havre and held by the judicial authorities, where the catch could be confiscated and the boat detained until a deposit is paid.
The captain of the boat also risks criminal penalties.
The BBC confirmed that the vessel is called Cornelis Gert Jan, which mainly operates in and out of the Port of Shoreham, Hampshire, and is operated by MacDuff Shellfish of Scotland.
MacDuff Shellfish said its fishing was “completely legal” and that the ship was “legally fishing for scallops” in French waters when it was arrested by the authorities.
The company said it will defend itself against any claims and that its boat is just “another pawn” in the ongoing France-UK fishing line and urged the UK government to “defend the rights of the fleet from British fishing “.
Meanwhile, the other boat was fined for initially resisting control, Girardin added.
The minister said checks on British vessels were standard during the scallop fishing season.
But he added that they were also undertaken “against the backdrop of tightening controls in the Channel, in the context of licensing discussions with the UK and the European Commission”.
Deidre Brock, SNP environmental spokesperson, will make an urgent question to the House of Commons at 10:30 BST.
He will ask Environment Secretary George Eustice “if he will make a statement on how the UK will work with French officials to mitigate a trade dispute”.
Barrie Deas of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organizations, the body representing fishermen in England, said a “piece by piece” relationship between the UK and France was “useless”.
Deas told BBC Radio 4’s Today that law enforcement may be “normal” but was “very concerning” in the context of the French government’s threats.
France had warned it would block British boats from some ports next week – as well as tightening controls on British boats and trucks – if a post-Brexit dispute over fishing licenses was not resolved by 2 November.
The UK said France’s threats were “disproportionate” and a violation of international law and trade agreements.
Speaking before the latest development, Lord Frost said the government was seeking “urgent clarification” of France’s plans and would “consider what further action is needed in this light”.
France was angered by the UK and Jersey’s decision last month to deny fishing licenses to dozens of French boats and claimed to have violated the Brexit deal.
Previously, French trawlers had protested outside the port of St Helier in Jersey, a British Crown dependency, with France threatening to cut Jersey’s electricity supplies in retaliation.
He issued his ultimatum on Wednesday night, saying he would start imposing “targeted measures” from Tuesday next week, including:
- Preventing British fishing vessels from landing in ports
- Increased border and health checks on UK goods
- Tightening of security checks on British boats
- Increased checks on trucks to and from the UK
France said it is also preparing further sanctions, which could include cutting electricity supplies to Jersey, a British Crown dependency, as previously threatened in May.
A bow shot
In naval parlance, this is called a bow shot.
Technically, French controls on British trawlers in the Channel at night are not part of the series of retaliatory measures announced in the fisheries line.
But there should be no doubt that they are meant as a message about what is to come.
From Tuesday, British and Channel Island vessels will not be able to land their catch in French ports.
But this is the least of it. Only 5% of UK seafood exports to France arrive this way. The rest comes from goods.
Potentially much more destructive will be intensified checks in Calais and other entry points for UK trade via ferries and tunnels.
The French authorities will conduct what they call a “grève de zèle” – in other words, suddenly becoming fussy, meticulous and in search of infractions.
And not only fish imports will be controlled, but everything.
The aim will be to create long queues that will play on news channels, reminding UK viewers of the costs of go-it-alone.
Downing Street said Wednesday that the “disappointing and disproportionate” threat of sanctions “is not what we would expect from a close ally and partner.”
“The threatened measures do not appear to be compatible with the trade and cooperation agreement and broader international law and, if implemented, will receive an adequate and calibrated response,” a spokeswoman said.
He said the UK would raise concerns with both the EU and the French government, claiming it has granted 98% of license applications from European boats.
The UK claims that the rejected applications that sparked the dispute did not have enough evidence to prove they had a history of fishing in British or Jersey waters.
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