Fish wars break out in English Channel between French and Britons

Scallop wars! Two British fishermen are surrounded by French trawlers and ‘pelted with flares and FRYING PANS’ in separate incidents over fishing grounds

  • Two British boats based off Brixham in Devon were involved in the skirmish
  • Vessels surrounded by 20 French boats and pelted with frying pans and rocks 
  • Growing fears over a possible ‘Cod War’ stand-off with European trawlermen
  • Tensions growing due to difference in fishing rules between UK and France 
  • UK scallopers can fish all year round, but French cannot from May to October

Fish wars have broken out in the English Channel as French trawlers confronted their British counterparts – firing flares and throwing frying pans.

Two British boats – the Girl Macey, skippered by Scott Glover, and the Golden Promise, by Brian Whittington – were involved in the skirmish.

The vessels, both based out of Brixham in Devon, were surrounded by around 20 French boats and were pelted with objects including frying pans and rocks.

The French crews even threw oil at the Gal Macey before firing a flare at the ship, with the violence sparking fears that there could be a death as hostilities worsen.

Ministers have put in place a ‘five-fold increase in our enforcement capacity’ over the last year in preparation for a possible ‘Cod War’ stand-off with European trawlermen.

Fishing remains one of the key sticking points to a Brexit deal, with Boris Johnson unwilling to allow EU trawlers to continue their existing access to UK waters forever.

UK fisherman have been surrounded and hounded by French trawlers in the English Channel

Fish wars have broken out in the Channel as French trawlers confronted British counterparts

The vessels were surrounded by around 20 French boats and were pelted with frying pans

The French crews even threw oil at the Gal Macey before firing a flare at the ship in the Channel

The recent violence has sparked fears that there could be a death as hostilities worsen

This map shows the extent of the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone – the waters Britain will take back control of after Brexit. At the moment the EEZ of every European Union member state is merged into one large zone which can be accessed by fishermen from all over Europe

Officials fear this could lead to a repeat of the 1970s ‘Cod Wars’, when British trawlers backed by the Royal Navy clashed with Icelandic coastguard vessels in a doomed attempt to maintain historic fishing rights in the North Atlantic. 

Following the latest incident, Brian ‘Winkle’ Whittington, 43, skipper of the Golden Promise, said: ‘I was expecting it this time, they only do it in the dark.

Moment of truth looms on Brexit trade deal: Boris Johnson holds make-or-break talks with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen TODAY as Merkel urges ‘realism’ to settle issues on fishing and level playing field rules 

Boris Johnson will hold make or break post-Brexit trade talks with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen today as the clock ticks down to the Prime Minister’s negotiating deadline.

Mr Johnson has made clear he wants the broad outlines of a deal to be in place by tomorrow’s EU Council summit in Brussels, but significant differences still remain.

The premier and the president of the European Commission will try to get discussions over the line after Angela Merkel called for the bloc to be more realistic on key issues like fishing rights.

The German Chancellor said in order for a deal to be done it will have to be ‘in the interests of both parties’.

Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen will speak by phone while Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, and Lord Frost, his UK counterpart, meet in person in Brussels.

Lord Frost is due to advise the PM tomorrow on whether he believes there is a visible path to a deal, amid claims Britain will walk away if an accord is not in sight.

‘We can’t use the radio when they do it as they just talk over us instantly, so I couldn’t check on Scott to see how he was.

‘We were about two miles apart and I had two or three boats around me. Scott had 15 around him, they were throwing oil at him and firing flares.

‘I was mentally prepared for it, I knew it was going to happen again.’

Derek Meredith, a fishermen from Brixham and owner of the Golden Promise, told how he believes that tensions are heightening in the channel.

He warned that the incident could have easily resulted in a death, because the flare could have set the Gal Macey on fire.

He said: ‘When I heard about it I was very concerned, if that flare went into the wheel house the boat would have burned up, and would the French have helped?

‘The boat would sink and the French would just leave our boys to drown. They shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing but they seem to get away with it every year.’

Mr Meredith also called on the Royal Navy to help British fishermen, saying they were routinely attacked while doing their jobs.

He said that despite growing tensions and worsening conflict, nothing is done and his crew are left to fend for themselves.

He added: ‘They act very aggressively, they do every year. Last year they smashed our windows and stuff and nothing happened – they get away with it every year.

‘The fishermen were surrounding out boats and throwing things at them, it’s the same as last year.

‘They pull in front of the fishing boat so it has to drop out of gear, and they will then chaperone you to the area where they want you to fish.’

Tensions have been growing each year due to a difference in fishing restrictions between the UK and France.

British scallopers are allowed to fish year round, but the French are not permitted to fish between May 15 and October 1.

Tensions are growing due to a difference in fishing restrictions between the UK and France

British scallopers can fish all year round, but the French cannot between May 15 and October 1

The difference in rules creates hostility towards the British fishermen, and the French try to keep the best stock for themselves and keep UK boats out of the good areas

Despite knowing their fate, the fishermen are returning to the scene today to continue fishing

A video grab from footage taken by British fisherman being surrounded by French trawlers

This creates hostility towards the British fishermen, and the French try to keep the best stock for themselves and keep UK boats out of the good areas.

Why the complex issue of UK-EU fishing rights is leaving Brexit talks floundering in cold water 

Each country has an Exclusive Economic Zone which can extend up to 200 nautical miles from the coast. 

That country has special fishing rights over that area. 

However, in the EU each country’s Exclusive Economic Zone is effectively merged into one joint EU zone. 

All fishing activity within that zone is then regulated by the bloc’s controversial Common Fisheries Policy which dictates how many of each type of fish can be caught.

The joint EU zone is open to fishermen from every member state. 

But after the Brexit transition period the UK will regain sole control of its Exclusive Economic Zone and the bolstered Royal Navy Fishery Protection Squadron will be tasked with patrolling it to make sure every vessel operating there has the right to do so.

Mr Meredith added: ‘It’s a load of rubbish, we haven’t done nothing wrong. What the French were saying is a load of c**p, that our boats were fishing in the wrong place.

‘Over there, the Navy are on it and take you in if you do go into the wrong area, they track you all the time.’

Despite knowing their fate, the fishermen are returning to the scene today to continue fishing for scallops so they can earn their livelihood.

Mr Meredith added: ‘I’m going back over there today, it will happen again tonight. It will take me about ten hours to get there, I’m mentally prepared for it to happen again.

‘We don’t fight back, if we start throwing things at them then it will be our fault and not theirs.’

The attacks following similar scenes last year when Mr Meredith said he had six crew members on the Golden Promise and Joanna C who have been left ‘extremely shaken’ by an early morning attack in the English Channel.

He said his crew tried to protect themselves from objects being thrown at them – while the French Navy just stood and watched.

And he claimed one of his boats could have sunk after the watertight integrity was breached by a flying shackle during the terrifying two-hour ordeal.

Cod Wars and the bitter 30-year ‘war for the waters’: How Icelandic and British fishermen first clashed over fishing grounds in the 1950s

An ongoing row over post-Brexit fishing rights has sparked fears of a return to the so-called Cod Wars of the 1950s and 1970s. 

Those confrontations saw Britain and Iceland clash repeatedly over access to waters in the North Atlantic.

The quarrels were so ill-tempered that at times the Royal Navy had to step in to stop Icelandic boats from interfering with British trawlers.

The Grimsby trawler Gavina is pictured being harassed by Icelandic gunboat Averkur during the ‘Cod Wars’ in June 1973

There have also been more recent rows over fishing rights between Britain and its European neighbours. 

In 2018 a so-called ‘scallop war’ erupted which saw French and British boats angrily clash over access to shellfish off the coast of Normandy. 

The UK is preparing for all post-Brexit eventualities, with the Government hiring two extra ships to provide additional help to the Royal Navy Fishery Protection Squadron’s current four ship fleet.

Meanwhile, more than 20 other boats are being put on standby which means Britain’s fishing patrol capabilities are said to be tripling. 

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