French scallop fisherman: British boats rammed us

French fishermen have vowed to keep up their action to block British vessels from fishing for scallops off the northern coast of Normandy.

The pledge comes after a night when around 40 French boats were involved in clashes with five British vessels.

Missiles including smoke bombs, flares and stones were thrown, vessels were rammed and now both sides are pointing the finger of blame at each other.

Stephane Le Francois the encounter with British fishermen was very scary
Image: Stephane Le Francois the encounter with British fishermen was very scary

“It was the British who rammed us,” fisherman Stephane Le Francois tells me in the coastal town of Port en Bessin.

He joined the blockade to try to stop the British boats moving closer to the French coast in search of the locally prized shellfish.

He shows me his friend’s boat which he says will be out of action for weeks after colliding with a much larger UK-registered vessel during a standoff at sea which grew increasingly volatile.

“It was very heated and very scary. Very scary for us because these boats are a bit like my family and the young lad who was on this boat, he’s only 18 years old, and he was in shock.

“It’s scary to have a big boat bear down on a small boat, particularly when the big boat was intentionally accelerating its engines. It didn’t stop, it didn’t reverse, and I was unable to help, so it was tough.”

The Honeybourne 111 was one of the British boats involved
Image: The Honeybourne 111 was one of the British boats involved

He is angry about what happened but he is also defiant, a sentiment which ripples through the fishing community in this picturesque French town.

Scallops are a valuable commodity here, but fishermen like Julien Hue, who also joined the protest, are only allowed to fish for them seven months of every year because of environmental law imposed by his own government.

He agrees with that legislation to protect scallop stocks but cannot accept that British fishermen are allowed to operate all year round.

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Video: Boats ram each other over scallops

He, like others here, accuses the British of depleting a vital natural resource for everyone. He will go out again and again he says if he hears the British boats are coming.

“If ever they were to come back into our waters, then we will do the same again, but this time with larger numbers. We are now much more motivated.

“We won’t use weapons, unlike what some people are saying in England, but we will have other things on board that are a little different. A little less aggressive.”

Smoke bombs are reported to have been thrown at English and Scottish vessels. Pic: Anthony Quenel 1:30
Video: Skirmish over scallops off Normandy

He is frustrated that the French are being portrayed as the bad guys in what happened. They may have been greater in number he says, but he insists the British fisherman turned the situation more volatile.

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And he adds that he and his colleagues in France have plenty of supporters and if the British boats return fishermen from some other European nations will join them.

The so-called “scallop wars” have endured in this part of France for a decade and a half already. The warning from this side of the channel is that they’re only getting started.

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