While the background to the extraordinary clash over scallops in the English Channel is undoubtedly complex, the actions of French fisherman accused of endangering the lives of British mariners by allegedly hurling rocks and smoke bombs at them is simply unacceptable.
The confrontation off the coast of Normandy in the early hours of Tuesday morning saw around a dozen English and Scottish vessels targeted by about 40 French boats in a protest over fishing rights in the scallop-rich waters. One British ship is said to have had a window smashed by an airborne can, while another suffered fire damage after a flare was thrown at it.
The long-running dispute centres on a section of the Channel from which British mariners are legally entitled to work in throughout the year but French fishermen cannot harvest until later in the year, due to domestic environmental laws.
With tensions now spilling over into outright violence, the eminently sensible words of Barrie Deas, the chief executive of Britain’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, should be heeded before serious injury occurs. “The deeper issues behind the clashes should be settled by talking around the table, not on the high seas where people could be hurt,” he said.
While French fishermen may be unhappy at the current arrangements, their British counterparts are fishing legitimately and have done nothing to deserve having their lives put in danger. But until appropriate reassurances are received, the Government must ensure there are appropriate measures in place to protect our fishermen.