A British fishing trawler impounded by French authorities is the unjustified casualty of a wider political battle between Paris and London over post-Brexit fishing rules, a lawyer for the vessel’s captain said on Wednesday.
A court in the north-western French city of Rouen is deciding whether the Irish captain, Jondy Ward, should pay a 150,000 euro ($174,000) deposit to have the boat released after French authorities said he was fishing in French waters without a proper licence.
“He is clearly in the middle of a political game,” the lawyer, Mathieu Croix, said outside the courtroom.
He said the deposit being sought by France was out of proportion to the value of the cargo of scallops on board the Cornelis Gert Jan when it was seized last week, which he estimated at around 5,000 euros.
He said the amount had been inflated in order to “make an impression” given the dispute over fishing licences since Britain pulled out of the European Union.
“It has taken on another dimension in the current context that has taken on a completely disproportionate meaning,” said the lawyer.
The deposit would allow the vessel to go free pending a court case next year. The Rouen court will decide later on Wednesday whether the deposit should stand. Scottish company Macduff Shellfish, which used the boat, has said it did have the appropriate licences.
France and Britain this week came to the brink of a cross-Channel trade war, with Paris alleging Britain was denying fishing licenses to French trawlers they were entitled to under a post-Brexit deal.
Britain said it was honouring the deal, and accused France of blowing the affair out of proportion. Paris had threatened to step up checks on trucks and produce arriving from Britain, and to bar British trawlers docking in French ports.
But France pulled back at the last minute and now says it will make a fresh attempt to negotiate a solution with Britain.