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UK fishermen suffer as French protest license delays

On Thursday 22nd April, French protesters blocked the shipments of UK fishermen from entering the seafood processing centre at Boulogn-sur-Mer. 2 of the fishing unions in France, the CFTC and the CFTD, have since threatened further action at Calais if French vessels do not receive licenses to fish in UK waters within 15 days (6th May). 

The Brexit deal over fishing territory was still being negotiated in the final days of the transition period, with a deal eventually made that allows French vessels to fish in UK waters with a license. However, 4 months on, French unions have claimed that 80% of their fleets remain without a license due to UK delays.

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has advised that the reaction is unjustified, due to the French numbers not being backed by the evidence required in the terms of the deal. French vessels that have met the criteria have been issued with licenses accordingly. 

What are the criteria for French fishermen to fish in UK waters?

Under the terms of the Brexit deal, French fishermen will be allowed to fish in UK waters if they already were between 2012 and 2016 (before the Brexit vote). Vessels are required to provide GPS evidence to support their application, which many have been unable to.


22 of the 120 fishing boats in Boulogn-sur-Mer have received their licenses so far, after providing the necessary evidence that they have historically fished in UK waters. The French government have appealed to the EU for support in resolving the lack of the other licenses; however, there is currently no evidence to support that the license delays are the responsibility of the UK. 

Despite the criteria not being met, the CFTD have demanded that the UK take action in the next 15 days. Otherwise, there will be an escalation to block more UK fishing trade at Calais, the tunnel and the ferry. 

UK fishermen disappointed by the Brexit deal

The fishing industry, as a whole, were large supporters of the Brexit campaign. UK fishermen supported the withdrawal from the EU in order to take back UK waters. The promise was that they would increase their profits against lower competition in the EU market, of which approximately 80% of their catch goes to. 


Since Brexit, UK fishermen have faced issues with the need to produce customs clearances and catch certificates at the border. These delays have caused some shipments to half in value as previously 24-hour delivery times were extended to 2-3 days. Unfamiliarity with paperwork and delays in becoming an “approved establishment” meant that some loads were held at the border for too long, and rejected on arrival due to rot.

In addition to border delays, and the more recent disruptions, UK fishermen may soon need to share water with more French vessels as the pressure increases to grant licenses. Without the need to customs clear the goods at the EU border, French fisheries may have an advantage over their UK competition by going into EU markets with fresher fish.

If you need help with importing or exporting fish, or more information on the issues that UK fishermen are facing after Brexit, please contact us for more information.

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