French fishermen have reportedly been pelting British boats with rocks and flares in a row over scallop fishing in the English Channel, the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) said today.
British fishermen reported the attacks to the MMO, which said an estimated 40 French vessels and eight UK vessels were involved in Monday's incident in scalloping grounds in the Bay de Seine.
A spokeswoman could not confirm whether the French fishermen were throwing rocks and flares, but said they had received reports from one of the UK vessels that this was the case.
British boats are entitled to fish in the area, 20 miles north west of Le Havre, even though it is in French waters.
The area had recently been closed off to French vessels by local authorities but was reopened on October 1, the spokeswoman said. UK boats were still entitled to enter the waters during the “closure” period.
The MMO spokeswoman said one reason the closure could have been put in place was so scallop stock levels could be replenished.
The situation was eventually defused after the MMO contacted the French authorities, who intervened.
Rod Henderson, head of coastal operations for the MMO, said: “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. Had the situation occurred in UK waters, the Royal Navy would have responded.
“Royal Navy fisheries protection vessels do sometimes cross the median line into French waters where a joint operation has been pre-agreed. The next joint operation is already scheduled, and the Royal Navy may soon have a presence in the area as part of this patrol.
“The MMO is continuing high-level discussions with French counterparts to seek assurances that these issues will not recur.
“The MMO is also liaising with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which has responsibility for collision at sea regulations, to resolve this issue.”
The MMO said it understood a French scallop representative met the UK fishermen on board one of the vessels on the evening of October 8 where they resolved the issue.
French authorities continue to patrol the area and UK vessels continue to fish there. The MMO said they have received no further reports of problems.