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Opinion: ‘Scallop wars’ between Britain and France are just a pre-Brexit skirmish

The recent skirmishes between French and British fishermen off the coast of Normandy are just a sign of what is to come after Brexit argue academics Magnus Johnson and Bryce Stewart.

Opinion: 'Scallop wars’ between Britain and France are just a pre-Brexit skirmish
Photo: AFP

Scallop fishing attracts controversy.

Dredgers scrape scallops out of the hollows they make for themselves in the seabed, and in the process disturb seaweed and other sea life that lives fixed to the bed. Even among senior marine scientists there is disagreement as to whether it is possible to do this sustainably. Most agree that certain vulnerable habitats such as seagrassand maerl beds should never be dredged, but that in some other areas dredging may be no worse than the disturbance from storms or currents.

Scallops are also valuable – only mackerel and prawn fisheries are worth more to the UK.

Scallop dredges have metal teeth that dig into the seabed and flip scallops out of the sand into the nets. Seafish

All this has led to battles between British and French ships over access to fishing grounds in the Bay of Seine off the coast of Normandy in northern France. The most recent conflict in the so-called “scallop wars” saw 40 small French boats try to chase off five larger British boats. Stones were thrown and boats collided, but there were no injuries or sinkings.

Though what they were doing was totally legal in this case, the nomadic fleet of large British vessels doesn’t always help itself. Several high profile cases have found against them for fishing where they should not in UK and French waters, not keeping accurate records, landing bycatch species they don’t have quota for, or as in the case of Honeybourne III, which took a starring role in the recent altercation, landing undersize scallops.

Large scallop dredgers in Brixham, Devon, on England’s south coast. Bryce StewartAuthor provided

The UK’s scallop fishers have also not made many friends among lobster/crab fishermen. A minority of scallop boats spark annual protests by Yorkshire fishermen as they tow away any lobster and crab pots that lie in their path.

Different countries, different rules

The scallop wars have two underlying, root causes. The first is that there are two groups of fishermen, targeting the same species in the same area but under different rules. A local regulation prohibits French boats from targeting scallops in the Bay of Seine until October 1 each year. But this French regulation does not apply to British boats.

In previous years the French fishermen have persuaded the larger UK boats to stay away until October by transferring extra European fishing allocation to them, so they can fish in other areas. This year, with Brexit looming, and after increased numbers of British boats fished the area in 2017, this “gentleman’s agreement” broke down.

Scallops are the UK’s third most valuable fishery. Bryce StewartAuthor provided

Although it is legal for boats from Britain, Ireland and other countries to fish in the area before October, it must be incredibly frustrating for the French fishermen. Over a decade ago France instigated highly progressive management measures for its scallop fishery, including limits on licences, reductions in boat and gear size, time restrictions, and increases in dredge mesh size. It was tough on French fishermen at the time, but as one French fisheries scientist once told us: “No pain, no gain.”

Now scallop stocks in the Bay of Seine are at near record levels, but vessels from other countries are catching them before the French are even allowed to go fishing themselves. In comparison, although there are now efforts to improve the sustainability of the scallop fishery around the UK, catch rates are declining, while the the number of scallop fishing boats has increased from 135 a decade ago to more than 200.

No ties to local area

The second root cause is that nomadic boats from the UK and other countries have no links to the local community that depends upon the scallops in the Bay of Seine. Small boats, such as the French use, have a limited range and depend entirely on what they can catch in the area. In such situations where there are extensive kin ties and shared communities, fishermen are much more likely to develop informal agreements with regard to who fishes where.

Port-en-Bessin, Normandy: the local French fleet has much smaller boats. Christian Musat / shutterstock

Of course, such tensions work both ways. For many years the French trawled for sea bass in the English channel, disadvantaging UK fishers who were banned due to concerns they would catch too many dolphins by mistake. The French fishery was only stopped by the EU when sea bass stocks collapsed.

A pre-Brexit skirmish

Neither side has come out of this well. What the UK boats did by fishing in the Bay of Seine may have been legal, and the French response overly aggressive, but they would have known they were asking for trouble and their own retaliation was over the top – and possibly illegal.

As Barry Deas, chair of the national representative body of fishermen pointed out, this is just a skirmish before the battle of Brexit. Ships from elsewhere in the EU take more fishfrom UK waters than the British fleet does and many in the fishing community would like to see reform that addresses what they see as an injustice. The problem is that most fish are not scallops, which rarely move, but instead undergo annual migrations across international boundaries. Therefore preventing fishing in one area may not necessarily reduce access to stocks.

In the absence of robust international agreements that manage stocks rather than areas, and respect the fact that fish do not care about human boundaries, the North Sea could become the new Mediterranean, where poor regulation and disagreement between EU and non-EU states has resulted in a steady decline in stocks. On top of the regular movements of fish, the North Sea fisheries will be challenged by climate change induced movement of fish out of UK waters (something that is already evident with mackerel).

In the face of Brexit we should be aiming to improve international relations, not damage them. Otherwise fish stocks and the wider marine environment are likely to suffer most – at which point everyone loses.

This article was first published on The Conversation website. To read more CLICK HERE.

Magnus Johnson is a Senior Lecturer Environmental Marine Biology, University of Hull and Bryce Stewart Lecturer in Marine Ecosystem Management, University of York




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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”