UK, French 'scallop war' ends, but 'crab war' could be next

Published on
September 24, 2018

The so-called “scallop war” in the English Channel between the British and French appears to have ended in a deal brokered via Facebook.

Jim Portus, chief executive of the South Western Fish Producers’ Organisation (SWFPO), said he struck a deal with his French counterpart to end months of escalating tensions between British and French scallop fishermen in the Baie de Seine off the French coast.

In August, French fishermen were accused of ramming British boats, throwing rocks and heavy chains at their crews, and putting ropes in the water to foul propellers. The battle arose over British fishing boats trawling for scallops in the Baie de Seine during a period when French rules prevent the country’s own boats from fishing.  

Through August and early September, a series of high-level meetings between the two sides over several weeks had failed to come up with an agreement.

“The French had walked away from the negotiating table and what we all thought was the last chance of a deal,” Portus told SeafoodSource.  “Then, last weekend, Pascal Coquet, the French industry representative who is a friend of mine on Facebook, sent me a message via Messenger saying they were ready to talk. I notified the U.K. government of the breakthrough, which enabled us to hold further talks and to finally agree a deal.”

Under the terms of the deal, U.K. boats over 15 meters in length must stay away from the disputed area for the next six weeks, in return for the transfer of French fishing rights elsewhere. The under-15-meter fleet can continue to fish there.

"We managed to get an agreement in which the big boats will only retrn on 1 November, but we were forced to let the under-15-meter boats stay in a compromise," CNPMEM scallop group head and French scallop industry representative Pascal Coquet said.

The deal did not meet with universal acclaim in the United Kingdom, Portus said.

“Some industry members felt that the deal was done in haste and that more might have been gained,” he said. “On balance, I judged that it was a final offer and recommended acceptance.”

U.K. Fisheries Minister George Eustice welcomed the “pragmatic outcome” and commended the U.K. fishing industry for its patience throughout the negotiations. 

However, with the scallop truce barely a week old, a new row has broken out between U.K. and French fishermen over crab fishing. Cornish fishermen have accused a dozen French trawlers of fishing recklessly in English waters, within the 12-mile limit, and of deliberately sabotaging their crab pots.

According to Paul Trebilcock, chief executive of the Cornish Fish Producers’ Organisation (CFPO), the French boats have been dragging through his members’ gear, breaking ropes, damaging pots and in some cases, towing them away altogether. 

“This issue has been going on for several months and the losses are significant, with the damage so far costing fishermen hundreds of thousands of pounds,” he said. “There is a lot of anger amongst my members and we knew that the situation could not carry on.”

Disappointed with a lack of interest from the U.K. government, the CFPO held a meeting with French fishermen and their representatives in Plymouth last week, in an unsuccessful bid to resolve the situation. Trebilcock explained that, every year, his organization informs the French of the areas where the crab pots have been placed in the hope that the trawlers will avoid them. This year, however, the French claimed not to have been informed. 

Trebilcock wonders if the current dispute and unacceptable behavior by French fishermen is related to frustrations caused by the scallop wars, or whether it could be related to Brexit, the U.K.’s pending breakaway from the European Union.

“Although the current problem pre-dates the scallop wars, the recent tensions in the Baie de Seine are unlikely to have helped,” he said. “But this is something we need to resolve very soon.”

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