The ‘scallop war’ between French and British fishermen in the English Channel is over after a deal was struck between the UK and French governments.
Last week, an at-sea clash took place 22km off the Normandy coast where British boats are legally entitled to fish scallop all-year round.
French vessels are only permitted to fish during the scallop fishing season – which runs from 1 October to 15 May – and for more than a decade tensions have been rising, with the French accusing the Brits of “pillaging” stocks.
On Wednesday peace talks were held in London that included representatives of the UK and French fishing industries, during which the French were said to have expressed “regret” for the recent skirmishes.
Both sides reached an agreement on the principles of a deal. No UK vessels will fish for scallops during the window in conflict, during which the French are not allowed to harvest the molluscs.
Instead, smaller British boats will be compensated for their losses – but the sum is to be debated in Paris on Friday – and if both sides do not agree, the accord could be sunk.
“In addition, there is agreement in principle for UK under-15m vessels to be included in the deal,” the UK and French governments said in a statement.
“This is subject to a reasonable compensation package, the details of which will be defined in Paris on Friday.
“In the meantime, there is a voluntary agreement for all UK vessels to respect the French closure period in the Baie de Seine.”
Last week’s clash saw 40 French vessels gather in protest against their British counterparts, allegedly “throwing rocks, shackles and flares onto the boats”.
The agreement-in-process will prevent the smaller British ships taking advantage of that window, but a UK industry representative involved in the talks said they will only be finalised if British fisherman do not lose a penny.
Jim Portus, the chief executive of the South Western Fish Producers Organisation, said: “I’m very pleased that we’ve negotiated a deal which satisfies the honour of fishermen on both sides.
“The French are in a hurry to make sure that it happens because what they don’t want either is for there to be another conflict.
“Quite frankly if it’s not good enough on Friday, it will be rejected.”
Asked if the French apologised, Portus was tight-lipped. Instead he said: “I’m pleased to say regret was voiced before we started our negotiations.”
All British boats have been asked to voluntarily stop taking scallops from the conflict zone until the deal is finalised.
French industry representative Pascal Coquet told reporters outside the Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), where negotiations were held, that it was a “good deal”.
On Wednesday, French agriculture minister Stephane Travert told French TV station CNews: “We can’t keep going on like this, we can’t keep having skirmishes like that.
“The French Navy is ready to step in if more clashes break out, as well as carrying out checks.”