UK, French fishermen to meet over scallop wars

French and British fishing industry representatives are to meet next week to try to calm the "scallop wars" that saw clashes off the Normandy coast this week, France's Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Stéphane Travert said on Friday.

A French boat rams a British one on Tuesday
A French boat rams a British one on Tuesday France 3 Caen/via REUTERS

Travert said he had spoken to his British counterpart, George Eustice.

"We both condemned what happened," he told Europe 1 radio. "Next week, we hope that there will be an agreement between the French and English fishermen."

The talks will take place in London on Wednesday, according to Dmitri Rogoff, the fishing chief of the French region of Normandy.

The clashes took place off the mouth of the River Seine, between the Norman towns of Barfleur and Antifer.

Travert said that he had asked Eustice to "ensure that the fishermen don't come below the Barfleur-Antifer line" until an agreement is reached.

Maintaining stocks

Stones were thrown and insults traded on Tuesday when about 40 small French fishing vessels tried to blockade five larger British ones fishing for scallops in the area.

Some of the British boats were rammed by their French opponents.

French European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau refused to condemn the French fishermen in an interview with the BBC.

"Trying to blame this or that doesn't calm the situation down or allow agreement to be reached," she said.

France is "vigilant in preserving resources", she added, warning against "destroying our riches for short-term profit".

The French, who are banned from fishing in the scallop-rich bay from 15 May to 1 October so as to preserve stocks, are angry that British boats continue to do so, often selling the catch in Europe.

Previously agreement has been reached to allow smaller British boats to work there but no such deal was made this year, so larger boats, some equipped with heavy dredging tackle and freezing capacity, have taken advantage of the situation.

One of the boats involved in Tuesday's incident was Canadian-owned and sailing out of Scotland.

Brexit in the background

While ministers were apparently working to avoid further confrontation, the mayor of the Normandy town of Le Tréport, Laurent Jacques, warned they could happen again "because everyone is very angry".

British fishing crews were threatening to return to the area on Monday, according to the UK's Daily Telegraph, which also said the French were considering using catapults.

The chairman of the Normandy regional council, Hervé Morin, on Friday called on the European Commission to find a "lasting solution" to the question, although the commission itself had called on both parties to reach an "amicable" agreement.

The shadow of Brexit looms over the incident, with the prospect of the British no longer having access to European waters.

The pro-Brexit Fishing for Leave organisation has claimed that European fishing crews have been "pillaging" British waters for the last three decades.

And an online petition has been launched to call for naval protection for British fishermen.

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