There's a 'Scallop War' Raging in the English Channel and It's Getting Violent

Footage from the clashes between French and British scallop fishers include scenes of boat-bumping, rock-throwing, and inexplicably smoking boats.

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Aug 29 2018, 5:45pm

Photo by FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images.

The French love their coquilles St-Jacques, or Normandy scallops, so much that rules have been instituted to prevent overfishing that would permanently deplete the country's resources. French scallop dredgers are only allowed to operate between October 1 and May 15, taking the summer off to allow the scallop stocks to rebuild. British boats, however, are under no such time constraints. And for over 15 years now, that disparity has created tension and, occasionally, violent flareups.

Early Tuesday morning, five British boats fishing just beyond the 12-mile protected boundary off France's coast were surrounded by 35-40 French ships who attempted to intimidate the Brits out of the English Channel. No one was injured, but footage shows French ships slamming into the British boats and pelting them with rocks.

A video posted on Facebook by a French captain appears to show a smoking British ship.

"These vessels were operating in an area they are legally entitled to fish,” a British government spokesperson told the Guardian. And that's completely true—but the French insist that just because it's legal doesn't mean it's fair.

"For the Brits, it's an open bar—they fish when they want, where they want, and as much as they want," Normandy fishing chief Dimitri Rogoff told the BBC. "We don't want to stop them from fishing, but they could at least wait until 1 October so that we can share. Scallops are a flagship product for Normandy, a primary resource and a highly sensitive issue."

So sensitive, in fact, that similar skirmishes took place in 2002 and again in 2012.

"The French were seriously aggressive, and their behaviour was ludicrous," the owner of a scallop dredge told the Telegraph in 2002 after his boat was attacked by French crabbers claiming there was a "gentlemen's agreement" that Brits would avoid the area. "In any case it is ridiculous to have a gentlemen's agreement and to tell no-one else about it," the scallop dredger said.

A decade later, a British boat called for help from the UK coastguard and Royal Navy after a similar ambush off the coast of France, but instead a French naval ship was sent. "We were like sitting ducks," the skipper of one of the British scallop dredgers told the Guardian. "Someone could have been killed."

In recent years, an informal agreement limiting the size of the British ships allowed to operate in the channel has kept the peace. But that accord appears to have fallen apart this year. Next summer could bring its own set of disputes if Britain goes through with its plan to exit the European Union, which currently grants them access to the international waters in the Channel.

The Brexit opposition should have played that up before the vote.