History of fishing in Jersey

By Don Thompson, President of the Jersey Fishing Federation 

1800s

Jersey’s historic fishing industry dates back to the 1800s and the great pioneers who crossed the Atlantic under sail to catch cod and to eventually  establish a Jersey community on the Gaspe Peninsular.

Closer to home during the 1800s, we also had a big fleet of sailing trawlers fishing oysters to the east of Jersey. With a big French fleet targeting the same stocks, there was much angry conflict and seizure of boats on each side was a common occurrence. The offshoot of the conflict was the 1839 Bay of Granville Agreement, known to be the first international fisheries agreement ever negotiated.

1900s

In the early 1950s Jersey fishermen pioneered the 'Channel' fishery for crab using offshore vivier boats previously unknown outside of Brittany. Those boats went on to exploit new grounds as far north as West Scotland and the Hebrides. 

Jersey merchants, with the plentiful landings of crab and lobster were able to influence European prices and help keep the island on the map.
Back then the fleet used to lay up along the wall, on the mud where the St Helier marina is now sited.

The fleet then moved to the end of the New North and on to the South Pier in the 60s. It was a fantastic sight to see the fleet tied 2 and 3 abreast for the full length of the quay on a spring tide.

The Jersey Fishermen’s Association  was established in 1955. The association to this day represents the professional fleet on the local and international stage.

Some fishermen successfully moved to the trawl and beam trawl sector and often exploited grounds in the Western Approaches far from home.
Access to EU funds, new bigger boats, increasing layers of regulation and development of new fisheries elsewhere has seen the demise of both our Vivier boats and bigger trawlers.

Modern fishing

Jersey still has a modern efficient fleet of shellfish boats albeit smaller size vessels, working mainly scallops, crab and lobster in local waters. The fleet work daily from the purpose built fish quay, La Collette landing usually at the fish processing and live storage facilities based on the Victoria Pier.

Notable recent milestones in history were:

  • the renegotiation of the historic Bay of Granville agreement, between France and Jersey, after 12 years of hard negotiation, finally signed and ratified in 2000. Regular ongoing fishermen’s and administration meetings ensure good relations and sustainable use of the resource
  • the successful end of a long and acrimonious struggle in 2008 by the JFA against the States of Guernsey to maintain Jersey’s fishing rights to the West

Despite its competitive nature, Jersey’s fishing industry has spawned some colourful characters over the years and a strong camaraderie exists between the fishermen.

Generously supported by Jersey Harbours, the JFA hosted the first Jersey Fish Festival 2009, bringing colour and vibrancy to the port of St Helier. The event is to be held annually in July to celebrate the historic fishing industry and showcase our wonderful seafood.

Don Thompson
President JFA