The sight of dozens of French fishing vessels approaching a harbour in Jersey in protest as flares shot up into the sky has been described as looking “like an invasion”.

Some 60 boats were estimated to have gathered at the port of St Helier on Thursday morning amid a “sea of red lights and flares”.

Jersey fisherman Josh Dearing said French vessels had first gathered from about 4.30am outside the harbour, before moving into the harbour after 6am and retreating shortly after 7am.

The 28-year-old, who owns The Jersey Catch fishing company, said the scene was “was quite a sight”.

He told the PA news agency: “There were probably about 60 boats. There were a few hand-held flares and smoke flares going off and apparently a few maybe bangers and stuff going off from the French.”

He said the fleet was mostly made up of “big French dredgers and trawlers” of about 12 metres or more.

Mr Dearing, who is originally from Kent but has lived in Jersey for around a decade, added: “It was quite a sight. It was impressive, I looked from the shore this morning and it was just like a sea of red lights and flares already going off at sea. It was like an invasion.”

Jersey fishing dispute
The armada of French boats enter the harbour at St Helier (Josh Dearing/PA)

There had been rumblings about a planned protest a few days ago, Mr Dearing said, but added that he had not been sure if it was “serious or empty threats”.

He said: “The French being the French, they don’t mess around. They can blockade their own harbours – they wouldn’t think twice about coming and doing it to us.”

He was “absolutely” pleased to hear on Wednesday night that Royal Navy vessels were being deployed to patrol the waters around Jersey.

He said: “We’re completely unprotected in Jersey. We’ve got nothing except for a few police officers. We don’t have a police boat, we don’t have a navy boat, we don’t have anything to protect us.

“The French can be hostile. All of our livelihoods are in that harbour and if they wanted to they could cause damage.”

Mr Dearing, who said his fishing licence costs about £40,000, said French fishermen who have not been granted a licence to fish had “thrown their toys out of the pram”.

He said: “Jersey fisheries has done nothing wrong. They’ve issued the permits to the French fisherman that were entitled to them and the ones that aren’t entitled don’t get the permits and that’s just life, that’s how it is.

“The guys that have historical rights [to fish] have been granted them, as they should’ve done, and the ones that haven’t have just thrown their toys out of the pram.”