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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory