Brexit feud puts French scallop fishers in troubled waters

Taking advantage of calm midnight seas, Pascal Delacour steered his ship toward prized scallop beds within sight of the Channel island of Jersey, kicking off a French fishing season that’s being roiled by a fresh post-Brexit access dispute.

“The English are jealous of our scallops because the resource is getting scarce at home,” Delacour said aboard the Chant des Sirenes (The Mermaids’ Song), referring to the Jersey authorities.

Delacour was the first French fisherman to secure a licence to ply Jersey’s waters after the British crown dependency set a list a new rules for French boats in the wake of Britain’s exit from the EU last January.

They require captains to prove they had been fishing off Jersey previously, something dozens are struggling to do.

Delacour was successful but this night he stayed closer to home, setting nets first for a catch of sole and other flatfish lurking on the sandy seafloor like skate and flounder.

His two helpers, Sylvain and Johnny, threw back the ones too small along with plenty of spider crabs, catching quick naps or coffee and cigarettes in between the hauls.

France has set a November 1 deadline for Jersey officials to give their responses to outstanding access requests and apply the terms of the post-Brexit accord hammered out last year.

It has threatened to curb electricity supplies to the island if no progress is made, but so far Brussels does not appear eager to inflame tensions with retaliatory measures against British boats.

For Delacour, “the British are going too far,” but the main target of his ire is the French government.

“They told us that Brexit wouldn’t change anything for us, but in fact our licences are no longer guaranteed,” he said.

“And for those like me lucky enough to get one, we don’t know how things will work in the future — which fish, for how many days, and until when?”

– ‘Reshuffles the cards’ –

The deck cleared of fish, Delacour’s crew turned its attention the chain-mail dredges that are lowered to the seabed to prise up scallops nestled in the sand.

The captain, who started out on his father’s boat, said fishermen in his bay outside Granville are reaping the success of their joint stock management — something Jersey has resisted.

“They don’t want to hear about area closures for reproduction for any product, nor of quotas,” he said as his dog Opale waited at his feet for her ration of fresh scallops.

“For years we’ve imposed quotas and seasons,” which for scallops runs from October to mid-May — outside the reproductive season that produces the coral-red roe, which many chefs consider to be too bitter.

They also sow beds with larvae that are harvested only when the scallops are big enough.

“Yields have exploded, and stocks have increased threefold,” Delacour said. “Ten years ago, I would be out four times longer and still only catch half as much.”

It’s around 6:30 am when the deck groaned under the first pile of scallops, and the haul continued for almost four more hours.

By eye he estimated the catch at 1.3 tonnes — the scales at Granville, France’s biggest port for shellfish, later confirmed his team raked in 1.29 tonnes, at a wholesale price of 2 to 2.5 euros a kilo.

Delacour beamed at the bounty, but he was wary of what lies ahead.

“For me, Brexit reshuffles the cards,” he said.

“If I can’t transfer my licence, then I won’t be able to retire. Sending my boat to the salvage yard is out of the question.”

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