The Scallop Conflict is a dispute between English and French fishermen over the right to dredge scallops in the English Channel. Most of the hostility caused by the conflict took place in October 2012, but the reasons behind the remain unresolved and at the time of writing [winter 2013] the possibility remains that the conflict could again flare up.
Due to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) all nations which are members of the European Union can fish freely within Europe’s shared Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, twelve miles from each nation’s coastline is reserved as the territorial waters of that nation alone, with no other fishermen allowed to fish within that zone. The scallop conflict began when French fishermen believe that British fishermen were coming within France’s twelve-mile zone inside the Bay of Seine (between Cherbourg and La Harve) to dredge for scallops. The situation was worsened by the fact that the French fishermen were banned from fishing for scallops over the summer months as a measure to allow stocks to spawn and regenerate, while British fishermen were allowed to dredge scallops all year round, although they only had a limited numbers of day to access the best fishing grounds.
The Conflict Begins
On Monday the 8th October 2012 around twelve British fishing boats were dredging for scallops in the Bay of Seine. While the British boats insisted they were at least fifteen miles from the French coast (and therefore fishing legally) the French fishermen believed that the British were inside of the twelve mile zone, and set out in a fleet of fishing boats to intercept them.
Once the French arrived on the scene they allegedly hurled rocks and iron bars at the British boats, fired flares at them and also attempted to ram the British boats. There were also claims that the French laid ropes across the sea in an attempt to foul the propellers of the British boats and stop them from fishing. The British fishermen claimed that a French fisheries patrol vessel arrived but refused to intervene and assist the British fishermen, and once the French fishing boats had left the area the crew from the fisheries patrol vessel boarded the British fishing boats for an inspection. The British crews saw this as a ploy to use up more of their fishing time.
The UK government turned down requests for Royal Navy protection for British fishermen in the area, stating that the French authorities were capable of handling the situation.
Continuation of the Dispute
While fishing did continue in the following days with no outbreak of further violence the atmosphere was described as an “uneasy ceasefire” by British newspapers, with fishermen constantly keeping an eye on both the horizon and their satellite tracking systems to ensure that the French fishing boats were not approaching again. However, trouble flared up again in January 2013 when the British trawler Van Dijck (which had been involved in the October incident) was accused of dredging seventeen tons of scallops in French waters. The crew of the vessel claimed they had made a mistake about their positioning but were made by the French authorities to return all of their catch to the sea and the vessel was then taken to a French port where it was impounded. The owners of the vessel had to pay a five-figure fee before the boat could return to its home port of Brixham. A second vessel was then found guilty of illegally fishing in French waters when the Scottish registered Mattanja caught fourteen tons of scallops within French waters. The vessel’s owners were fined £22,000 and banned from fishing for a year, while a bond in excess of £100,000 had to be paid before the vessel could be released and return to Britain.
The Scallop Conflict showed the ways in which European nations could come into conflict over the rights to fish in what should be common waters. It is easy to see both sides of the argument – British fishermen were doing nothing illegal by dredging fifteen miles off the coast of France, but the outrage of the French fishermen is understandable when seeing scallop beds on the very edge of their waters being dredged while they are unable to fish due to conservation laws. While the Scallop Conflict appears to have calmed down towards the end of 2013 the underlying reasons why the conflict began have not been resolved, and another disagreement over the dividing line of the French twelve mile zone could easily see the conflict begin again.