British and French fishing boats clash in Channel as ‘scallop war’ erupts

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 29 August 2018

French and British fishermen have clashed in the English Channel in an escalation of the long running ‘scallop wars’.

Scallop fishing boats collide
© France 3 Normandie

After we leave the EU, we think it’s vital that the same high environmental standards apply to all vessels fishing in UK waters (foreign or domestic).

Samuel Stone,
MCS Head of Fisheries and Aquaculture

It’s been reported that rocks, smoke bombs and other projectiles were hurled at English and Scottish vessels during the confrontation in the early hours of Tuesday morning. British boats were reportedly outnumbered by the French one to seven, and were allegedly attacked by the rival flotilla that had gathered overnight in protest over fishing rights.

Some of the British vessels are said to have later returned to UK harbours with signs of “criminal” damage.

The long-running dispute is over a scallop-rich area of the Channel that French fishermen are prevented from harvesting due to domestic environmental laws.

The South Western Fish Producers Organisation, which represents many of the boats and has been negotiating with French fishermen, condemned the behaviour as dangerous.

Chief executive Jim Portus said: “They areendangering life at sea by being unprofessional.

“The French might look like heroes to the French coastal communities but it’s really awful to put other mariners in danger.”

Dimitri Rogoff, head of a Normandy fishermen’s association, said the violent scenes “demonstrate the exasperation of Normandy fishermen in a situation which persists and does not change”.

“I urge everyone to avoid these situations that endanger men’s lives,” he said.

The Scottish White Fish Producers Association condemned the “vigilante” French fishermen. “Attacking our vessels is appalling,” the group said.

Britain’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has appealed for calm, saying the dispute should be resolved through negotiations.

“We have raised the matter with the British Government and asked for protection for our vessels, which are fishing legitimately,” its chief executive, Barrie Deas, told the BBC.

“The deeper issues behind the clashes should be settled by talking around the table, not on the high seas where people could be hurt.”

Samuel Stone, MCS Head of Fisheries and Aquaculture, said the conflict shows just how important it is for all fishers accessing the same waters and resources to have the same rules: “This is one of the key asks we have for the upcoming new Fisheries Bill which the government is consulting on as part of its Fisheries white paper: Sustainable fisheries for future generations. If the UK becomes an independent coastal state we think it’s vital that the same high environmental standards apply to all vessels fishing in UK waters (foreign or domestic).”

Following the reports, Sheryll Murray, MP for South East Cornwall, claimed she received assurances from the Environment Secretary that “appropriate measures” were in place to protect fishermen. The MP said she urged Michael Gove to raise the issue with his French counterpart following the confrontation activity scallop-rich water.

She told the Press Association: “It is totally unacceptable when British boats are doing nothing wrong, they are allowed to fish there. “It seems as though the French fisherman just took the law into their own hands.

“When you start seeing fishing vessels damaged - and as a former fishing owner I know how much these things cost - it is certainly totally unacceptable.

“I have been assured by Michael Gove that appropriate measures are in place to enable to fishermen to carry on fishing, I’m waiting to hear a further update from him later today.

“I asked if we had any fishery protection vessels that could go in and defend our fisherman and he said ‘appropriate measures are in place’.”

Mrs Murray also hit out at the response of the French authorities to the skirmish.

She said: “The French authorities have the responsibility for enforcing the rules on the French side of the median line, which is the line drawn down the centre of the English Channel, but there seems to be no evidence whatsoever that the French authorities took any action.”

The UK government has opened a public consultation asking how the public think they should manage fisheries after Brexit through a new Fisheries Bill. In July, the government published its consultation document outlining post-Brexit plans for fisheries management ‘Sustainable Fisheries For Future Generations’ and are now asking for everyone’s feedback.

MCS has launched the #maynotcontainfish campaign so the public can let the Environment Secretary know that the new Fisheries Bill must have equivalent measures for all vessels in UK waters post Brexit.

You can take part here

Actions you can take

Did you know?…

21.7 million tonnes of wild caught fish are not for people to eat; almost 75% of this is to feed farmed fish

In the UK we eat 486,000 tonnes of seafood a year, which is 8.2kg per person

1 billion people, largely in developing countries, rely on fish as their primary source of animal protein

What's your impact on our seas?

You can play a key role in securing the future of our seas and marine wildlife by making more environmentally responsible choices when buying seafood.

Make the right choice and reduce your impact - every purchase matters!

See our top tips