French, UK fishermen to seek scallops deal after sea skirmishes

FILE PHOTO: French and British fishing boats collide during scrap in English Channel over scallop fishing rights, August 28, 2018 in this still image taken from a video. France 3 Caen/via REUTERS

Thomson Reuters

By Geert De Clercq and Julie Carriat

PARIS (Reuters) - Fishing industry officials from France and Britain will try to strike a new deal on dredging for scallops next week following violent skirmishes in the Channel, authorities said on Friday.

On Tuesday, French vessels rammed British trawlers off the coast of Normandy, hurling projectiles and insults in a dispute which erupted after a previous agreement broke down.

French fishermen accuse the British of unfairly catching scallops in the Baie de Seine in the summer months when French boats are banned from doing so under rules imposed by the Paris government to conserve stocks of the shellfish.

French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert told Europe 1 radio he had discussed the issue with a British minister on Thursday night and that the industry representatives would meet next week to work out an agreement.

"We both condemn the violent acts and we want to return to a spirit of responsibility," Travert said.

Travert said he had asked British fisheries minister George Eustace to ensure UK vessels do not sail south of the Barfleur-Antifer line, the scene of this week's clashes.

Dimitri Rogoff, the head of the Normandy fishing association, said the industry officials would meet in London on Wednesday and French government officials would also attend.

Scallops - known as Coquilles Saint Jacques in France - are one of a handful of species whose catch is governed by national rather than European Union regulations.

While British ships have no access to French territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles (22 km) off the coast, they can legally operate in the expansive Baie de Seine between Cherbourg and Le Havre.

France bans its fishermen from scallop dredging between May 15 and Oct. 1, but Britain allows its vessels to operate year-round.

After similar clashes in 2012, French and British fishing organizations negotiated an agreement each summer under which the UK fleets do not start scallop dredging in the Baie de Seine before the French, in exchange for part of the French fishermen's dredging permits.

But small British vessels were excluded from that agreement. The French say the British have undermined the spirit of the deal by sending more and more small vessels. In protest, the French have not signed any agreement this year.

British fisherman face losing access to EU waters after the country leaves the bloc next year, in the absence of any deal.

Rogoff said that ahead of Brexit, British fishermen had increased scallop trawling, risking wiping out the seafood during their breeding season.

"The British scallop harvest has grown more than tenfold in the past decade, they now catch more than we do," he said, adding that by the time the season opens in October there are few scallops left for the French fleet.

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; editing by David Stamp)

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