Red herring! French fishermen caught ‘fibbing’ on applications to net post-Brexit permits

Fishing: French behaving in 'appalling manner' says Gardiner

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Under the withdrawal agreement, British authorities dish out permits to EU fishermen enabling them to work in the UK’s territorial waters. This issue has been hotly contested by the French – with Emmanuel Macron’s Government threatening to punish the UK unless more of its fishermen are given permits.

A number of them have reacted furiously after being rejected for one when they failed to provide enough proof that they fished the waters between 2012 and 2016

Many smaller boats – mostly less than 40ft long – insist that they have used the waters for years but are not fitted with GPS trackers which would prove where they were.

In a compromise, some French boats provided UK officials with “single data points” as evidence that they were working in the right area on a specific date.

Now it has emerged that UK officials have been examining satellite data which directly contradicts some of their claims.

It came from a commercial satellite data called AIS which is used by port authorities and keeps a record of where boats have been.

A number of the claims made by French fishermen were “immediately shown to be false”, according to one Whitehall source.

They told the Telegraph: “Some of the fishing boats were caught fibbing.

“They said they were in a certain place at a certain time, but the data showed that wasn’t the case.

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“Some of the applications were then withdrawn.”

The news emerged shortly after France accused Brexit Britain and the Channel Islands of unfairly rejecting half the vessels applying to fish in UK and Jersey waters.

British authorities responded that they are entitled to demand evidence after officials suspected that some of the French boats never fished in British waters and are seeking to take advantage of post-Brexit disruption.

So far 16 small French vessels out of 47 applications have been licensed to fish in Britain’s six to 12-mile zone since the negotiations started a month ago.

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France and the European Commission jointly agreed to withdraw 17 applications because the evidence was “considered poor”, according to an EU official.

Further applications were withdrawn after the UK provided evidence using the AIS data, it is understood.

Others remain under consideration, with European Commission and French officials reportedly using other data including mobile phone and sales records, to try to prove their case.

“It may be that some of these applications were made in genuine error, rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead,” another UK official said.

“This is an ongoing process – for the vessels which did not have appropriate supporting evidence, we have made it clear that our door remains open.

“We are very happy to process any applications supported by the evidence.”

Olivier Lepretre, the head of the Hauts-de-France fishing council, insisted the withdrawn applications were not a “story of fibs”.

“It is certainly hard to prove because in 2012 boats did not have electronic trackers,” he said.

“That is the only concern – it is not a story of fibs. In 2012, it was not mandatory for the entire European fleet to be equipped with such trackers.”

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