Protesters spent Thursday night at a checkpoint where lorries carrying fish from Britain into the northern French ports of Dunkirk and Calais are subject to hygiene checks, now that the UK has left the European Union.
The fishermen set fire to pallets and tyres to stay warm at the Boulogne-sur-Mer checkpoint, in France’s busiest fishing hub.
No trucks from the UK were present, AFP journalists said on Thursday, with some having changed routes after hearing of the planned action.
British-flagged ships operated by Dutch companies, which often unload fish caught in UK waters at French ports, had also changed course towards Belgium, the harbour master’s office told AFP.
A second group of protesters were settling in for the night in front of the Boulogne fish market.
“This night of action is a warning shot,” said Olivier Lepretre, head of the regional fishing committee.
“If nothing happens at the European level, we will shift up a gear.”
Lepretre said UK authorities had only granted licences to 22 out of the 120 boats seeking permission to fish between six and 12 nautical miles from the British coast.
Local mayor Frederic Cuvillier offered his support to the fishermen, calling for the EU to “wake up” and protect the European fishing industry from Brexit’s impact.
“The cruel truth is that there is no fishing deal,” said Cuvillier, a former Socialist fishing minister, describing the situation as “desperate”.
Fishing became a hugely fraught issue in negotiations late last year over an agreement to govern Britain and the EU’s post-Brexit trade relationship.
The UK had insisted it wanted to take back control of its waters while EU coastal states sought guarantees that their fleets could keep fishing in British waters.
London and Brussels eventually reached a compromise that will see European boats gradually relinquish 25 percent of their current quotas during a five-and-a-half-year transition period.
British fishermen, many of whom sell their catches in Europe and rely on rapid transport, have also been deeply unhappy with the post-Brexit situation, saying that extra checks and paperwork are threatening their livelihoods.