Monday, 26 Oct 2020

EU fisheries fury: Royal Navy urged to intervene in scallop wars with France

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Two UK fishing vessels were targeted by about 20 French boats in the English Channel earlier this week. They were pelted with flares, rocks, frying pans and oil amid tensions over rules on catching scallops. The Girl Macey, skippered by Scott Glover, and the Golden Promise, skippered by Brian Whittington, which are both based out of Brixham, Devon, were surrounded by French boats during the clash.

Mr Whittington told The Times: “They only do it in the dark.

“We can’t use the radio when they do it as they just talk over us instantly, so I couldn’t check on Scott to see how he was.

“Scott had 15 around him, they were throwing oil at him and firing flares.

“I was mentally prepared for it, I knew it was going to happen again.”

Derek Meredith, the owner of the Golden Promise, warned the incident could have caused deaths.

Mr Meredith said: “They act very aggressively, they do every year.

“Last year they smashed our windows and nothing happened — they get away with it every year.”

French fishermen are banned from catching scallops between May 15 and October 1.

However, British fishermen can catch scallops all year – sparking tensions with their French counterparts.

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Violence over scallops previously erupted between British and French fishermen in 2018.

Two years ago, a Tory MP even suggested Royal Navy warships should intervene to help British fishermen in the “scallop wars”.

The call came after talks between the UK and France to end the dispute over scallop fishing ended without agreement.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Philip Hollobone said: “If this fishing is taking place outside of French territorial waters why can’t the Royal Navy accompany our ships back into those fishing grounds?

“If we’ve got fishery protection vessels and type 23 frigates permanently positioned in the Channel, surely the Royal Navy should be at sea with our fishermen to protect their livelihoods?”

Environment Minister George Eustice responded by saying it was the responsibility of the French authorities to police and enforce fishing activity in the area.

He told MPs that he had written to his French counterpart to express his “disappointment” at an agreement not being reached to end the scallop wars in the English Channel.

He told the Commons: “The UK Government has offered to assist French enforcement authorities with MMO (Marine Management Organisation) personnel should they want to consider joint operations given the risk of further altercations.

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“I have also asked the French government to consider the alternative options available to them.

“Firstly, it seems to me that putting back in place the agreement for the over 15-metre fleet, which has stood the test of time over the last five years, would be preferable to no agreement at all and I hope the French industry will reconsider their position in this regard.

“Secondly, it is open to the French government to lift the domestic restrictions they have in place earlier than they normally would in order to address concerns that their industry has expressed about the lack of a level playing field.

“The UK industry is legally allowed to fish in the Bay of Seine. They have shown considerable restraint during the negotiations and I welcome their cooperation and understanding.”

Mr Eustice said he had emphasised the “absolute need for safety to remain paramount” and he hoped a “mutually beneficial outcome might still be agreed”.

Former Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman said livelihoods of communities were “being hurt” by not being allowed to fish in the area.

She said the French navy should have stopped the “appalling violence” and sought assurances over the measures in place to stop it happening again.

Ms Hayman added: “As we await the publication of the Fisheries Bill, the industry is looking to the Government for some backbone and for the minister to fight for them, their livelihoods and their communities.”

She said ministers who “failed to find their voice over the scallops wars” would be responsible for sealing a deal with the EU on quotas and access to waters.

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