French fishermen accused of Channel attack on British scallopers
October 10 2012 Lewis Smith
The Vertrouwen being mobbed by French vessels
French fishermen have been accused of being little better than pirates after attacking a group of British boats in the English Channel.
The French were said to have hurled rocks and fired at least one flare at the British vessels, and of trying to foul the propellers by tossing ropes into the water.
Angry British fishermen have demanded the authorities provide them with better protection after an estimated 40 French vessels mobbed the group of five boats as they were fishing for scallops.
Andy McLeod, the owner of one of the vessels, the Van Dijck, that was attacked was appalled at the behaviour of the French scallop fishermen.
He said: “There were some very close quarter situations. It was very dangerous. We were stopped from fishing for about six hours. It was seriously dangerous and could have resulted in loss of life.”
The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and Maritime Coastguard Authority were alerted, and they contacted their French counterparts as the confrontation was just off the French coast, west of Cherbourg in the Bay of Seine.
However, fishermen said the French authorities failed to intervene adequately and the following day subjected the British boats to rigorous checks.
“We were a little disappointed that at a time when British fishing interested needed protection there was no protection forthcoming,” said Mr McLeod.
Pictures taken by one of the crews showed French vessels surrounding a larger British scalloper, the Vertrouwen, as is was trying to fish.
The British boats all had to make repeated evasive manoeuvres to avoid collisions. Terri Portman, who runs a scalloping business, praised the British fishermen for refusing to retaliate but was dismayed at response of the authorities.
She described the French behaviour as piracy and said: “If this happened off Somalia we would be sending a frigate. I can’t believe this happened in the English Channel."
The confrontation took place on Monday in an area that the British are entitled to fish in, and the MMO used a satellite-based vessel monitoring system that revealed that five British trawlers were surrounded by 40 French boats.
A spokesperson for the Marine Management Organisation said: “As soon as we were made aware of the situation we contacted the French authorities and encouraged them to intervene. They did and are continuing to deal with this matter.
“We believe issues should be dealt with by the country in whose waters any such incident occurs.”
French fishermen are believed to be angry because the scallop beds in the Bay of Seine have a closed season from May till October that only applies to them.
Earlier this year there was an attempt to get the British fleet to agree to a voluntary closed season but the deal, which would have offered them improved rights to fish elsewhere, was scuppered by a small group of fishermen in Brittany.
Frustration among the French fishermen intensified because at the weekend all their landings failed to reach a minimum price applicable just in France. All the landings were destroyed.
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