British fishermen to call for Royal Navy support after scallop clash with French

Boat crew 'feared for its safety' after coming under attack over fishing in contested waters

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Forty French trawlers have clashed with five UK fishing vessels off the coast of France this week in an angry dispute over lucrative scallop fishing.

Details of the clash, in which French fishermen are said to have surrounded their British counterparts, and hurled rocks and other objects and fired flares at them, were revealed today by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

It took place in the Bay of the Seine, twenty miles off the coast of Normandy north-west of Le Havre, which is an area in French waters but one in which, the MMO said, British vessels were entitled to fish.

However, some French fishermen have blamed overfishing in their waters on British boats, and were attempting to chase the British vessels away from the area. The Channel contains some the European Union's most hotly contested fishing grounds.

The clash prompted the intervention of a French naval patrol vessel, and the issue was resolved - for the time being -  after representatives of both sides met for talks on one of the British boats.

Andy Scott, of Dumfries-based Scott Trawlers, said the crew of the scallop boat Vertrouwen had feared for its safety during the incident. "About seven vessels came into very close quarters with the Vertrouwen and tried to stop it fishing," he said.

"It tried to continue fishing at which time the French vessels started to attack with catapults, stones and nuts and bolts. The crew feared for their safety, they feared that the wheelhouse windows were going to be broken."

Mr Scott said he would be looking for Royal Navy support after incident earlier this week, in which the number of boats surrounding the Vertrouwen increased to about 30, with French crews trying to throw ropes and nets to snare her propeller.

At that point three French fishermen boarded the Vertrouwen and spoke to the skipper.

"He was able to satisfy them that he was legally entitled to fish there," said Mr Scott.

Rod Henderson, Head of Coastal Operations for the Marine Management Organisation, said last night: "As soon as the MMO was made aware of the situation, our officers contacted the French authorities and encouraged them to intervene. They did and are continuing to deal with this matter.

"It is the responsibility of the French authorities to ensure the safety of UK vessels in their waters.

"The MMO is continuing high-level discussions with French counterparts to seek assurances that these issues will not recur."

A spokesman for the French maritime prefecture said tensions flared when up to 40 French boats encircled British vessels and tried to chase them off.

"Fishermen can be quite hotheaded," the spokesman said, adding that French mediators had to facilitate talks between the sides to defuse the conflict.