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Scallop row: French police pledge more boats to keep peace

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Media captionFrench and British fishing fleets have come to blows over when and where they can catch scallops

France has said it is ready to send more police boats to its north coast to prevent further clashes between French and British fishermen over scallops.

Authorities said they would increase the police presence “if necessary” to prevent a repeat of clashes in which boats collided and stones were thrown.

French fishermen sent nearly 40 boats to confront UK rivals they accuse of depleting scallop stocks off Normandy.

But the British say they are legally entitled to fish there.

Local official Ingrid Parrot said the situation had been “extremely tense” and both sides had thrown objects at each other.

She defended sending just one boat to police the incident overnight on Monday, saying: “The aim was to stop the tensions from increasing. We sent only one ship that day, but we will send more if it’s necessary.”

Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, said the incident was “high seas piracy” but said the French had agreed to a request for talks.

“We need to decrease tensions in the whole area,” he told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

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Crews of some of the British boats involved in the incident have been inspecting their vessels

What exactly happened?

The French boats gathered overnight on Monday in protest against so-called “pillaging” by five larger British vessels.

The British were chased away with two boats, Golden Promise and Joanna C, returning to Brixham harbour with damaged windows.

The crews alleged they had been surrounded and had rocks and metal shackles thrown at them, but French police said UK boats responded in kind.

A video published by French media shows a Scottish scallop dredger, the Honeybourne 3, colliding with French vessels.

Why has it all blown up now?

Tension has rumbled for 15 years, but in the past five a deal has prevailed – larger British boats stayed out of the area in exchange for more fishing rights.

British boats can gather scallops year-round, but French law restricts the scallop fishing season to between 1 October and 15 May.

Marc Delahaye from the Normandy fishing committee said they also objected to the British using “great dredgers” in the area, while the French used smaller boats.

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The Honeybourne 3, a Scottish scallop dredger, docked in West Sussex after the clash

The UK scallop industry is worth £120m and supports 1,350 jobs. About 60% of the catch is exported – with much of it being bought by the French.

But a 2016 report by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) warned that the fishing effort by France, the UK, Belgium and Ireland in the Bay of Seine was “too high”.

How have the British responded?

Mr Park rejected suggestions that British boats were overfishing the area.

They catch just 6% of the scallops in the area, he said, so “if there’s any accusation of over fishing it’s not on the UK fishermen, it’s on the French fishermen.”

“Scallops are plentiful and they’re expensive,” he said. “We’re doing nothing wrong and what we can’t do is be bullied.”

Sheryll Murray, MP for South East Cornwall, said environment secretary Michael Gove has assured her “appropriate measures” are in place to enable UK fishermen to keep working.

But she questioned whether French authorities were “turning a blind eye” while their fishermen “took the law into their own hands”.

Local French officials said they could not intervene directly because the conflict took place in international waters.

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