LONDON (AP) – A UK-registered scallop caught in a dispute between the UK and France over fishing licenses has been released by French authorities, its owner said on Wednesday.
Andrew Brown, public affairs manager for Macduff Shellfish, owner of the scallop dredge, said the Cornelis Gert Jan had left Le Havre in northern France. French maritime police seized the vessel off the Normandy coast last week and arrested its captain and crew.
The boat, which was arrested for a paperwork violation, has become the symbol of a larger row between the UK and France over fishing rights in the English Channel.
“We are happy to have resolved this matter and delighted that our crew and our vessel are now able to return home,” said Brown. “The crew acted calmly and professionally throughout the incident. They are in good spirits, eager to reunite with their loved ones and are grateful for all the messages of support received from the UK public.
The two countries exchanged threats and allegations for weeks after France complained that dozens of its boats were denied licenses to fish in the waters around Britain and the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, which are self-governing dependencies of the British Crown near the coast of northern France.
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Fishing is an economically tiny industry, but symbolically important to maritime nations such as Great Britain and France. Their dispute turned into a major diplomatic incident; French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson were strewn with questions about the matter as they attended the Group of 20 summit in Rome and the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow last week.
Great Britain says the problem is technical, linked to the lack of papers of certain French boats to prove that they have traditionally fished in these areas.
But France sees this as a matter of principle and has accused Britain of violating its legally binding divorce agreement with the European Union, which sets the rules for fishing in the post-Brexit era.
France has threatened to close its ports to some British ships and impose strict controls on ships and trucks carrying British goods, if more licenses are not granted. Paris also suggested at one point that it could restrict energy supplies to the Channel Islands, which are heavily dependent on French electricity.
Britain says a blockade would violate the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. The British government has said throughout the long-running conflict that it is not engaged in negotiations and that it is entirely up to France to end the conflict.
France had initially said it would act against Britain if a resolution did not emerge by Tuesday, but the deadline has been extended by several days while the two sides and the EU hold talks.
The impounded trawler is not one of the vessels involved in the licensing dispute. Mathieu Croix, lawyer for his skipper, Jondy Ward, said the pickup was “caught in a political game”.
“There is a whole story going around this whole thing, when in fact it is a rather mundane affair of fishing in a supposedly no-go area and permits that may or may not have been granted and relatively modest catches, ”said Croix.
“From that point on, given the current political climate, the case has exploded to levels which, in our opinion, are totally disproportionate,” he said.
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