Channel trawler clash keeps an ancient enmity afloat

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FRENCH trawlermen do not need a referendum to decide the fate of Europe's fish. Renewed turbot imperialism by Mitterrand's matelots off the Scilly Isles infuriated Cornish fishermen yesterday.

The fisheries protection vessel HMS Shetland was last night patrolling the area where Newlyn crewmen claimed their nets were damaged by the Breton trawler L'Arche, the most notorious ship in a piratical fleet that Cornish skippers reckon might just as well fly the skull and fishbones.

L'Arche was accused of causing pounds 1,000 of damage to gill nets cast by the Cornish trawler Atlanta, whose skipper, Leon Kemp, said the French boat was warned of the location of his nets 'on a piece of paper'. Mr Kemp added: 'One of their crew was spoken to in English, and the bloke seemed to understand. L'Arche avoided our gear, and we thought everything was all right. Then we turned around and there he was behind us coming up through the gear.'

Newlyn trawlers lay miles of gill nets on the seabed for several days to collect bottom-feeding fish by their gills. The boisterous French tow heavy steel-framed trawls, which can rip through any of the subtler, more chic, English broderie.

The Ministry of Defence said HMS Shetland encountered L'Arche in the early hours and boarded the trawler to examine her log. 'The log showed the trawler had not been there while the Cornish fishermen were in the area. The trawler proceeded on her way,' a spokesman said.

But trawlers' logs chronicle fishermen's tales. They may not be the most plausible of accounts, according to quayside sources, especially not where L'Arche is concerned. In June, Britain demanded compensation after she was accused of steaming deliberately through the nets of three Newlyn trawlers.

British skippers now hope that withdrawal from the Exchange Rate Mechanism will free the Navy to protect British bottom-feeding fish from the likes of L'Arche in the only language she understands - a few 4.5 inch broadsides.

The MoD said: 'HMS Shetland will remain in the area in case of any comeback and if there are any further complaints.'