Talks to end scallop wars in English Channel collapse

French and British boats clash off France's northern coast. Picture: AP
French and British boats clash off France's northern coast. Picture: AP
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Negotiations between British and French fishermen to end the scallop wars in the English Channel have collapsed.

Industry leaders had been working to agree compensation for UK mariners to stop foraging for the molluscs in a disputed territory during a period when the French are banned under domestic law.

But it was announced on Wednesday that talks had ended without a deal, risking a return to recent skirmishes in the Baie de Seine.

French food and agriculture minister Stephane Travert said he “regretted” the failure, adding that he “salutes” the efforts of the French fishermen to “propose reasonable compensation”.

The UK Government countered, however, with a Defra spokeswoman saying the “French offer was unacceptable to the UK industry”.

She also warned the French that the UK’s priority is the safety of its fishermen.

READ MORE: Leader comment: Scallop War must not turn into modern-day Cod War

“Where the UK fleet is legally entitled to fish in French waters, the law is clear that they are entitled to protection from the French authorities,” she said.

The Scottish White Fish Producers Association said the situation was “disappointing for everyone”, adding: “No one wants to see conflict on the high seas.”

Talks had been held both sides of the Channel after trouble flared in recent weeks.

Some 35 French boats confronted five British craft off the coast of northern France, with reports of rocks and smoke bombs being hurled at UK vessels.

British ships can legally forage in the Baie all year round.

But the French are prevented from taking scallops there between May 15 and October 1 to conserve stocks.

An industry accord prevented UK vessels larger than 15 metres doing so too, but smaller ones could help themselves.

READ MORE: UK and France fail to agree deal to end ‘scallop wars’

The basis of an agreement was formed in London last week, with small UK vessels pledging not to fish in the area of dispute during the period French laws prevented their counterparts.

But this was on the basis British crews would not lose out financially and a compensation package was being debated.

The price appears to have been too high for the French.

With the breakdown of negotiations, British scallop catchers may return to the disputed territory.