West Country boats clash with French in English Channel over scallops

The long-running dispute is over a scallop-rich area of the Channel. Credit: PA

Two British boats have returned to Brixham harbour after being damaged in a clash with French fisherman in the English Channel.

The Joanna Sea and Golden Promise were caught in the "scallop war".

Rocks, smoke bombs and other projectiles are reported to have been hurled at English and Scottish vessels during the confrontation in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Reportedly outnumbered by the French one to seven, the British boats were allegedly attacked by the rival flotilla that had gathered overnight in protest over fishing rights.

Dramatic footage of the incident broadcast by France 3 Normandie showed boats colliding as an object was thrown toward them.

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.

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.

Some French fishers say they are trying to protect a scallop bed that they accuse the British of over-fishing off the coast of Normandy.

French fishers are only able to harvest scallops between 1 October to 15 May to allow scallops to breed and preserve stocks.

British fishers are not governed by the same regulations and can harvest the beds at anytime of year.

A French fisherman said that they were trying to fend off the British boats as "if we leave them to it, they will finish the sector."

One of the British boats involved in the clash is said to be the Honeybourne 3, a Scottish scallop dredger.

The Scottish White Fish Producers Association condemned the "vigilante" French fishermen.

"Attacking our vessels is appalling," the group said.

Flares were thrown as tensions rose. Credit: EBU

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

Environment Secretary Michael Gove is reported to have said that "appropriate measures" are in place to protect fishermen.

Sheryll Murray, MP for South East Cornwall, said she urged Mr Gove to raise the issue with his French counterpart after "the French fishermen just took the law into their own hands" following the scallop-based confrontation.

The Conservative MP lost her husband, who was a fisherman, in an accident at sea in 2011.

She branded the fracas "totally unacceptable when British boats are doing nothing wrong, they are allowed to fish there...

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

Mrs Murray also hit out at the response of the French authorities to the skirmish, branding it a "disgrace".

A spokesperson for the Government said it was "aware of reports of aggression directed towards UK fishing vessels in an area of the English Channel not under UK control.

"These vessels were operating in an area they are legally entitled to fish.

"The safety of the UK fleet is our highest priority and we will continue to monitor the presence and activities of vessels in the area.

"We are in contact with industry and the French administration to encourage meaningful dialogue and prevent further incidents from occurring."