French fishermen clash with 'scallop-pillaging' Brits
British marine officials were in talks with their French counterparts on Thursday after sea clashes broke out between British and French scallop fishermen. The French argue that their UK counterparts are “pillaging” resources too early in the year.
A sea scuffle between French and British fisherman has forced marine officials from both countries to hold urgent negotiations. The conflict began on Monday when some 40 French trawlers ‘confronted’ around five British scallop dredgers off the coast of Normandy, allegedly throwing rocks and flares and sailing near them at high speed.
"We were like sitting ducks," British skipper of the Vertrouwen, Kevin Loughran, told the Guardian newspaper. "Someone could have been killed."
No injuries were reported, but the incident has sparked an ongoing war of - not only - words at sea, with British fisherman “mooning us, giving the finger and wearing Union Flags,” according to one French fisherman interviewed by TV channel France 3.
In response, the British scallop fishermen say they are perfectly entitled to trawling in the area. “We’re in international waters,” Loughran told France 3. “We have been fishing here for months”.
But the French say that is precisely the problem. They are subject to strict national legislation restricting the dates and areas of fishing as well as the amount and size of scallops they can catch, but their British counterparts are not.
“They are pillaging the scallop grounds,” one trawler owner told France 3. “We work intelligently, preserving the scallop population. We let them lay eggs in May and leave them to fatten over the summer. But others are coming to reap a profit. That's not right."
The French workers also say they are not protected by their own government. “The British don't give a damn about us and they're right. The French government is protecting them. No one wants to do anything about this, no one cares,” the skipper of the same boat told France 3.
UK officials released a statement on Thursday assuring “continuing negotiations” with their French counterparts. “As soon as we were made aware of the situation we contacted the French authorities and encouraged them to intervene,” the statement read. “We are seeking assurances that these issues will not recur.”
British trawlers have promised nonetheless to continue fishing in November.
Fishing disputes are rare in the area, although a similar incident was reported in 2002, when a British scallop dredger was allegedly attacked by a French vessel some 20 miles off Brest.