I was dating Laurent Merlin six months ago when we set foot on British coastal waters in the middle of the night.
As he led his boat through heavy waves and circled around the lobster pots, he spoke of his nervousness about the uncertainty of Brexi.
Now nervousness has turned into fear, mixed with anger. A fortnight before the end of the year, Laurent and the fishermen in the UK and across Europe have no idea what regulations await on January 1st.
“Everyone is really stressed out,” he says.
“Everyone is impatient to find out what is happening because some of my colleagues have a lot of equipment in these waters.
“Personally, I currently have € 40,000 worth of lobster cages in UK waters.
“We don’t know whether to leave them there or bring them back. We have been told to get them out of British waters before January 1st and if not, the Royal Navy will intervene. If Brexit really happens, we will . ” are dead.”
And now that his anger was once specifically controlled, there is a feeling of anger brewing.
“We just won’t accept it. At the moment we didn’t say much because I think we still had hope but if we don’t end up with a deal we will all take action.
“We can’t just stay here and accept it. I firmly believe that of the 30 boats operating here only 10 will be left in two years. That’s for sure.”
No single industry was as prominent in the Brexit negotiations as fishing.
In economic terms, it’s a minnow – worth much less than 0.1% of the UK’s GDP.
But it has taken on political weight as a symbol of sovereignty, national pride, and the idea of regaining control.
The complication is that there are EU countries that are just as keen to defend their fishermen, even if their economic impact is small.
France, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Germany and the Netherlands send fishing boats to British coastal waters.
The fish and seafood that they bring back are eaten across the continent. And yes, there is an intangible feeling here too that fisheries should be defended.
While Michel Barnier was addressing the European Parliament in Brussels, the fishmonger France Grimonprez served a steady stream of customers at its fishmongers a few miles away.
“Without a deal, we don’t know where we’re going, but to get a deal, like in any business, everyone has to find a fair price,” she told me.
“The laws aren’t very clear. For example with scallops. French fishermen are really controlled when it comes to fishing, by size, the number of hours they can work, and so on.
“But these rules don’t apply to British fishermen. So that creates problems because the laws aren’t the same.
“The problem is there isn’t a wall in the canal to divide the water.
“Maybe I’m naive, but I hope that the ‘no-deal’ doesn’t happen. There has to be a free exchange within the agreements made, otherwise it’s a big step backwards.”
The fishing industry across Europe is waiting to see what happens next.
Livelihoods are at stake, nerves are frayed and tensions are high.
The plight of fishermen has become a political focus not only in Great Britain.