The European Union and the United Kingdom will begin negotiations on their future relations in early March. New president of the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament, oceanographer Pierre Karleskind hammered on Friday that “Europe will never accept that European boats cannot access British waters. However, French fishermen do not hide their concerns. This is particularly the case for Scapêche, the sea sector of the Groupement les Mousquetaires, the leading French fishing vessel owner whose activity could be jeopardized if it can no longer access British waters. Its president, Sylvain Pruvost, explains why.
What do you fear with Brexit?
SYLVAIN PRUVOST. Did you know that the most fishy waters in Europe are British waters, especially towards the north of Scotland? This is also where we find target species very well known to the general public such as monkfish, hake, saithe. We have access to this area – until the end of the year – because the United Kingdom was part of the European Union. But, with its exit from Europe, it may no longer be accessible. However, 70% of our catches are made in British waters. We will therefore be very attentive to the agreement that Europeans must define with the English by June 30 for application on January 1, 2021.
What is the position of the British on this subject?
Their request is a bit vague. But, in summary, they say that they want to be masters of their waters and that they no longer want European boats fishing there. We could then tell ourselves that we are going to fish in another area. But the problem is that we cannot find certain species there. There would also be a concern for respecting resources. For several years, we have had a quota system that allows us to define, every year, what we can fish, species by species, area by area for each boat. This is what makes it possible to control the renewal of the resource. But if we can no longer go to British waters and European fishermen all find themselves in the same area, the resource will not be sufficient.
If this scenario becomes clearer, what would be the impact for Scapêche?
The entire seafront would be impacted. In the whole of France, a third of the fish comes from British waters. If we focus on the facade of Hauts de France and Bretagne, it is well above 50%. If we are only talking about us, our fishing fleet (23 vessels), our processing units and distribution platforms represent more than 1,100 direct jobs.
So there would be threats to employment?
If we can no longer go fishing there, we will no longer be able to keep the same number of boats. But we are still far from this catastrophic scenario. We must be vigilant but not alarmist.
Do you believe in a favorable outcome?
In the forthcoming negotiations, the EU has placed fishing at the top of the list with this common position of the member states which are asking for the status quo. Our file is therefore defended. England needs the European market to sell its seafood and European fishermen need British waters to continue fishing. We should be able to find common ground.