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.
The industry representatives would meet in London on Wednesday and French government officials would also attend, said Dimitri Rogoff, who heads the Normandy fishing association.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said it was time for calm, for rational discussion and peaceful resolution, not conflict at sea.
“As control over access and fisheries resource changes in the next few years, it will be imperative that the rules are agreed, accepted and, where necessary, enforced,” he said.
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 organisations 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.
Additional reporting by Elisabeth O'Leary in London; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by David Stamp