British trawlers pelted with stones by French fishermen as Brexit reignites 'scallop wars'
- 1 month ago
Clashes took place on the edge of the Seine Bay between French fishermen , mainly from Normandy, and their English counterparts
French fisherman threatened to reignite a simmering “scallop war” on Tuesday after surrounding rival British boats and pelting them with stones in a row exacerbated by Brexitnegotiations.
British fishermen have called on the Government to intervene, with some asking for Navy protection after UK boats were trapped by an armada of French fisherman furious at them stripping scallop beds before they are authorised to do so.
“We estimate that there were 35 French boats and five British boats,” said the regional French maritime authority in Normandy.
“The French went out to meet the British to stop them working,” said Dimitri Rogoff, president of the regional Normandy fishing committee.
“They clashed. Stones were thrown. The French almost completely surrounded the British” who then left the area, he said, adding that there were no injuries or damage.
British fishermen have called on the Government to intervene, with some asking for Navy protection
French fishermen are not allowed to harvest scallops from the seabed between October 1 and May 15 beyond a 12-mile exclusion zone off their coast under national rules designed to allow the scallops to breed and replenish stocks.
British fishermen have no such restrictions, although in previous years a gentleman's agreement has generally allowed both sides to harvest scallops fairly.
This year, however, no such agreement was in place, and according to the French fishermen, the British have for the past week been stripping the scallop beds leaving nothing behind for when the French will eventually be allowed to join in.
So fishermen in Normandy decided to take matters into their own hands, slipping out to sea from several Norman ports, including Courseulles, Ouistreham, Trouville, Honfleur and Le Havre on Monday night.
While Mr Rogoff confessed that the British were “perfectly entitled to fish where they were fishing”, he added: “It was a spontaneous act of anger by fishermen who are fed up with the British fishing in a zone where the French have always fished.”
He alleged that he had been told that British scallop fishermen were not allowed to negotiate a sectoral deal because the UK wanted to negotiate a global agreement on fishing as part of Brexit.
Brexit has muddied the waters over informal fishing agreements between French and British fishermen
In the UK, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, NFFO, has asked the British government to intervene over the “outrageous behaviour” of the French.
"Throwing stones and firing flares is not only dangerous but illegal under maritime law and there will be consequences," said Barrie Deas, NFFO chief executive.
He added: “The primary concern at the moment is the safety of the crews on both sides because on the basis of footage that we have seen, there are some very dangerous manoeuvres going on which could have tragic consequences.”
“Only then can the issues of substance about access rights and management of scallop stocks and sustainable harvesting can be discussed and settled.”
Mr Deas told The Telegraph he “wouldn’t be surprised if Brexit is in the back of French minds” over the attack.
He said: “The French need access to British fishing waters on a huge scale and it is not clear they will be able to after Brexit as the UK will be an independent coastal state”, meaning it could deny France and the rest of the EU access to waters up to 200 miles from the coast, or at the median point between two neighbouring coastlines.
“The French will seek to try to block using those rights, so from that point of view I can understand their sensitivity."
He said that EU fleets, of which a large number were French, fished “five or six times as much in UK waters as we do in theirs”, so if no Brexit deal was reached on fishing, “the losers with absolute certainty would be France".
However, he said he remained convinced that a deal on fishing territory would be found this autumn between the UK and the EU.
While the French said no damage was done, local France 3 television reported that some boats sustained damage to their hulls after being rammed during the clash. Footage from their site showed at least a couple of vessels smashing into each other with a French fisherman shouting "putain!" (f---!).
The site France 3 Normandie said the video showed the "charge of an English ship during the clash between French and British fishermen!"
This is not the first time British and French fishermen have clashed over rights to scallops. In 2012, violence erupted in the English Channel off the Baie de Seine for the same reason and prompted calls for the British to send in the Navy, which went unanswered.
A British government spokesperson said: “We are aware of reports of aggression directed towards UK fishing vessels in an area of the English Channel not under UK control. These vessels were operating in an area they are legally entitled to fish.
“The safety of the UK fleet is our highest priority, and we will continue to monitor the presence and activities of vessels in the area. We are in contact with industry and the French Administration to encourage meaningful dialogue and prevent further incidents from occurring.”