France says it's prepared to deploy its navy to prevent confrontations with British fishermen over access to scallop-rich seabeds. The "Scallop Wars" have led to rival boats charging at each other in open waters.
The French Navy is ready to step in to break up clashes between French and British fishermen over access to scallops, Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert said on Tuesday.
Tensions escalated last week when boats from the two countries confronted each other in international waters off France's northern coast. Video footage showed fishermen ramming into other vessels and hurling stones.
"We're going to have to work on this, because this situation cannot continue, we can't have clashes like this," Travert told CNews television in an interview. "The French navy is ready to intervene in case there are clashes."
Representatives from both sides are due to meet for talks on Wednesday to try and resolve the dispute, dubbed the "Scallop Wars" by some media.
Read more: Will the Brexit save UK's fishing industry?
Feud over depleting stocks
French fishermen are peeved that they are only allowed to dredge for scallops in the Baie de Seine off Normandy between October and May. But British boats — if they're less than 15 meters (50 feet) long — can fish there year-round.
Agriculture Minister Travert said a new deal was needed to ensure "a sustainable and efficient management of scallop stocks."
Following similar clashes in 2012, the two sides signed annual agreements under which British fishermen limited their shellfish dredging during the French off-season in return for some French scallop permits. Tensions spiked this year after negotiations broke down without such a deal.
Mike Park from the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, who is attending Wednesday's meeting, said it was "difficult to be optimistic."
"We hope to strike a deal but that would be down to the French, because they have rejected the terms we've had in previous years," he told AFP.
Boating after Brexit
Travert suggested the latest skirmishes were linked to uncertainty surrounding fishing rights in the lead-up to Britain's planned split from the European Union in 2019.
"We are heading for Brexit, and the English fishermen are mostly Brexiteers," Travert said, "and we must admit that tensions are growing as we approach the United Kingdom's departure date."
Without a new agreement, British fishermen face losing access to EU waters after Brexit.
nm/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)