French love of shellfish keeps British boats in business: The fury of the latest fishing wars is derived from the different eating traditions on the two sides of the Channel, writes Stephen Ward

A RESTAURANT in France. The Cafe de Paris, on the Cherbourg quayside. The patron takes your coat, you settle down, en famille, gazing at the pile of crustaceans and molluscs on display, lobsters in tanks. Everybody orders a few, sits down with a bottle of wine and pulls them apart, sucking contentedly on the claw or leg of a lobster or spider crab.

A restaurant in England. The Carved Angel in Dartmouth, where the food is equally good. But the shellfish are tucked away in the kitchen, the lobsters are either dead or dozing in the refrigerator. Nobody asks to see them alive.

Lobsters and crabs have been the latest commodity to provoke a minor trade war between Britain and France, and are a parable of supply and demand in the free market.

Unlike for lamb, milk or beef, there are few subsidies. The 'producers', the fishing boats, are almost all owner-operated and small. And nobody can interfere much in the market (as with salmon and trout) by farming crustaceans. They take too long to mature and have so far proved too aggressive to breed in captivity.

Market forces draw most of the lobsters and crabs to France. There are a dozen French restaurants for each English one even selling fish, and it is the same in the market and in the home. This explains why the disputes between British and French fishermen erupted with such fury. It is not just that the French pay more, especially at certain times of the year including Easter, but that they buy so much more. If French ports were closed to the English and Channel Island boats, their skippers simply couldn't shift it all in Britain.

According to Dr Eric Edwards, director of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, the amount of shellfish landed annually in the UK by British boats is 122,000 tonnes, worth at first sale pounds 102m. Statistics are not kept for exports, but for the south-west of Britain, 'between Newhaven and Cornwall, 90 per cent of the shellfish caught goes to France'. Most of the rest goes to London restaurants. Very little is sold in restaurants or markets where the boats are based.

Ken Lynham, who runs two shellfishing boats out of Portland, Dorset, each skippered by one of his sons, explains the economic logic which dictates where he sells his catches. His boats, with 80 pots each, catch half a tonne of crabs and lobsters on a poor day, three tonnes on a good day. 'I would say the English fleet between Poole and Plymouth exports pounds 14m of crustaceans a year. Probably we only sell pounds 2- pounds 3m worth a year to England.' In that stretch of coast, there are probably 1,500 fishermen, and most of them depend for their livelihood on the French appetite. Spider crabs, a spikey species with all the meat in the legs, just don't sell in England, yet in France they are a sought-after delicacy.

The difference between the two nations' attitudes to crustaceans is illustrated by the menus at the Cafe de Paris and the Carved Angel.

Alain Herrou, patron of the Cherbourg restaurant, offers three shellfish dishes, at Fr70 ( pounds 8.75), Fr150 ( pounds 18.75) or Fr500 ( pounds 62.50) for two. A straight lobster would cost Fr390 a kilo (about pounds 24 a lb). He buys for about Fr160 a kilo, (about pounds 10 a lb), less in summer when they are plentiful, more in winter when they are harder to catch. He buys all his fish from a specialist merchant, not from the market or fishmonger or the boats, which would either cost more or could not guarantee supplies.

The Carved Angel's proprietor, Joyce Molyneux, does not serve lobster every day. 'We buy from a small fisherman, fishing out of Dartmouth, crabs and lobsters, and prawns whenever he gets them. We can't have lobster every day. We pay pounds 5 a lb for lobster and pounds 1.50 a lb for crab. It hardly fluctuates. Lobster is sometimes a little more expensive in the winter.'

Her lobster, a la carte, at lunchtime, costs pounds 22 a portion. In the evening it features, when available, either as part of the starter or main course in the set-price meal costing pounds 37 or pounds 42, according to how many courses you have.

She regrets that Dartmouth doesn't support a flourishing row of restaurants offering fruits de mer. 'But in England there just isn't a tradition of the family sitting round tucking into a plate of shellfish.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015