The French government has reacted with fury after just 12 fishing licences for small boats to operate in UK waters were granted out of 47 applications.
The UK was accused of taking French fishing “hostage” and warned of “retaliatory action” following the decision.
The prospect of a new cross-channel fishing war came after the UK issued licences based on evidence of a boat’s track record of fishing in its territorial waters, in line with the Brexit deal.
Some 47 applications were received from boats under 12 metres in length to be able to operate in the UK’s territorial sea.
A Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: “The Government has this year issued a large number of licences to EU vessels seeking to fish in our exclusive economic zone (12-200 nautical mile zone) and our territorial sea (six-12 nautical mile zone).
“Our approach has been reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).
“As regards the 6-12nm zone, as set out in the TCA, EU vessels must provide evidence of a track record of fishing activity in those waters.
“We have been considering applications for vessels of under 12m in length to fish in this zone and, on the basis of the evidence available, we are able to grant licences for 12 of the 47 applications made.”
The spokesman said the UK will continue to work with the European Commission and French authorities “and will consider any further evidence provided to support the remaining licence applications”.
France’s minister for the sea Annick Girardin, quoted in Le Monde, said: “It is a new refusal of the British to apply the conditions of the Brexit accord despite all the work undertaken together.
“I have only one watchword; to obtain definitive licences for our fishermen as the accord foresees.
“French fishing must not be taken hostage by the British for political ends.”
French minister for Europe Clement Beaune said “we will not hesitate to take retaliatory action, collectively”, the Daily Telegraph reported.
“We understand and share the exasperation of our fishermen.”
It is the latest flashpoint in the long-running Brexit rows over fishing rights.
In May, Royal Navy patrol vessels were dispatched to Jersey in response to protests by French fishermen.