Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Radio 4 on the 'Scallop Wars' meeting in London today.

Radio 4's Today coverage early this morning on the so called, 'Scallop Wars' meeting in London today.

Talks will be held in London later in a bid to resolve tensions between French and British scallop fishermen. The British fish producer organisation will meet with their French counterparts and Defra officials to try and find a solution.

Around 40 French boats clashed with five UK craft last week in a row over scallop fishing off northern France. British crews said rocks, smoke bombs and other projectiles were hurled at them during the confrontation.

French agriculture minister Stephane Travert said on Tuesday that France's navy was ready to intervene to prevent further clashes. He told French broadcaster CNews: "We can't keep going on like this. We can't keep having skirmishes like that.

"The French navy is ready to step in if more clashes break out, as well as carrying out checks."

UK boats are entitled to fish in the scallop-rich area of the English channel, 12 nautical miles (22km) off the Normandy coast, in the Bay of Seine. However, their presence has angered the French, who have accused the British of depleting shellfish stocks.

Environment secretary Michael Gove says the UK boats were fishing legally and that it is for the French to take any steps needed to prevent violence in the area.

Mr Gove said last week: "These are French waters, it's the responsibility of the French to ensure that those who have a legal right to fish can continue to fish uninterrupted."  While Defra says there is no ministerial involvement in today's talks, Downing Street has said both sides are hoping for an "amicable" solution from the meeting between officials and industry representatives.

Prime Minister Theresa May's official spokesman said: "The important thing is that there are talks taking place between the two sides. "I think everybody - ourselves and the French government - is hoping that this will reach an amicable outcome."

French fishermen have clashed with their British counterparts off the coast of Normandy in a dispute over scallops. But what are the relevant rules?

Scallops are among the more valuable shellfish, coveted for their delicate taste.

They're causing trouble in the Channel, where French fishermen say UK rivals are "pillaging" stocks off the coast of Normandy. British fishermen say they are operating within the law and that French boats have no right to try to stop them dredging in the Baie de Seine area.

Scallops - the broader picture:

Under the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy registered fleets from any member state have equal access to EU waters. But each country has powers to limit the access that fleets from other EU countries have to waters within 12 nautical miles of its own coastline. This means France can impose restrictions on UK and other non-French EU boats operating within this zone, but not beyond.

But - amid stated concern over the level of scallop stocks - France operates an extra law that applies only to its own fleets. This allows them to dredge the Baie de Seine (some of which is less than 12 nautical miles off the French coast, and some of which isn't) only during a "season" lasting from 1 October to 15 May. So, UK fleets can dredge the area lying more than 12 miles off the coast at this time of year.

French fleets, because of their own country's law, can't do this until the season starts next month. French fishermen say this is unfair, arguing that ships from other EU countries are getting an advantage over them. But the UK's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs points out that, overall, French fleets make far more money from catches in UK waters than vice versa.

In the past, the UK and France have worked out what the European Commission called "common management measures" for harvesting scallops, but this has not been repeated this year, amid increasing acrimony. The commission said it was "in the interest first and foremost of the fishermen" to come to a new agreement.

France24 reported news of the meeting this way:

British and French fishing groups will hold talks Wednesday to avert new clashes between their vessels, after tensions flared last week in scallop-rich waters near Normandy and as Brexit looms on the horizon.

The meeting in London, facilitated and attended by government officials from both sides, will see scallop industry leaders discuss access to stocks of the pricey delicacy in the Seine Bay.

"We're going to have to work on this, because this situation cannot continue," French Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert told CNews television on Tuesday.

"We can't have clashes like this," he said, calling for the "sustainable and efficient management of scallop stocks".

Tensions boiled over last Tuesday when five British vessels sparred with dozens of French boats in the sensitive area, with video footage showing fishermen from both sides ramming each other.

The latest skirmish in the long-running so-called "Scallops Wars" has led to France placing its navy on standby to deal with any further confrontations.

It comes as Britain prepares to leave the European Union -- and its common fisheries policy which sets catch quotas and other restrictions for member states -- next March.

With British fishermen heavy backers of Brexit, "we must recognise that tensions are reviving," added Travert, who warned the industry should not be used as a bargaining chip between London and Brussels.

"We want a global accord, and do not want to see fishing treated separately, because fishing should not be a variable for adjusting Brexit," he said.