The U.K. deployed two Royal Navy patrol boats to the British island of Jersey on Thursday amid escalating tension over fishing rights with France. France said it would also send its own navy vessels to monitor the situation.
The incident is just the latest flare-up over the issue after Britain's exit from the European Union.
Jersey is a small, self-governing British island, located 14 miles off the coast of northern France. Jersey officials issued 41 fishing licenses to French vessels, but France said those licenses unilaterally imposed stricter conditions on the vessels than the terms under the Brexit agreement signed by the U.K. and the European Union. According to the Reuters news agency, the limitations included restricting the time the vessels would be allowed to fish in British waters.
France provides 95% of Jersey's electricity via underwater cables, according to S&P Global Platts and, in retaliation for what the French considered a breach of the Brexit deal's terms, they threatened to cut off the power supply.
"In the (Brexit) deal there are retaliatory measures. Well, we're ready to use them," France's Seas Minister Annick Girardin told the country's National Assembly, according to Reuters.
"We are entering a new era and it takes time for all to adjust. Jersey has consistently shown its commitment to finding a smooth transition to the new regime," Jersey's external relations minister, Ian Gorst, said in a statement. He argued that the new fishing licenses were in line with post-Brexit trade terms, Reuters said.
At dawn on Thursday, around 50 French fishing trawlers had gathered around the Jersey port of St. Helier to protest. Fears of a blockade prompted the U.K. to deploy its navy vessels, but after a few hours, the trawlers dispersed.
The British government said it was "pleased" the French trawlers left the vicinity, adding that the Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessels will now return to port.
"The Trade and Cooperation Agreement brought in changes to fishing arrangements between the UK and the EU," the government said in a statement. "Jersey authorities have a right to regulate fisheries in their waters under this agreement and we support them in exercising those rights."
Last month, French fishermen angry about delays by the U.K. in granting them licenses to fish British waters used burning barricades to block trucks carrying fish imported from the U.K. into France.