French navy 'ready to intervene' in scallop row with UK fishermen

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Fishermen have clashed over access to rich stocks of scallops in waters near the mouth of the Seine River

France said Tuesday its navy is standing by to avert new clashes between French and British fishing boats after tensions flared last week over access to scallop-rich waters off the Normandy coast.

Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert told CNews television the navy was "ready to intervene in case of clashes".

Fishermen around 12 nautical miles off the Normandy coast last week hurled stones and insults in what has been dubbed a "Scallops War".

A British government source said it was France's "responsibility under international law to respond" since the clashes broke out in French waters.

"It's not our jurisdiction. The Navy are available if asked. It has not been asked," said the official, who asked not to be named.

At stake is access to rich stocks of the pricey delicacy in waters near the mouth of the Seine River.

French boats are allowed to fish there only between October to May to protect stocks.

But a deal struck years ago exempts British boats less than 15 metres (50 feet) long from the restrictions.

French fishermen want that loophole to be closed when representatives of the two sides meet for talks on Wednesday.

Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, attending the meeting, said it was "difficult to be optimistic" on the prospects for an agreement.

"We hope to strike a deal but that would be down to the French, because they have rejected the terms we've had in previous years," he told AFP.

Tensions boiled over last Tuesday when five British boats sparred with dozens of French vessels in the waters off the French coast.

Some of the boats rammed each other, video footage showed.

"We're going to have to work on this, because this situation cannot continue, we can't have clashes like this," Travert said.

He said a new deal was needed to ensure "a sustainable and efficient management of scallop stocks."

But he said British fishermen should not expect a separate deal with France as the UK prepares to leave the European Union in March next year.

Travert said "tensions were rising" as the scheduled date for Brexit approaches.

"We want a global accord, and do not want to see fishing treated separately, because fishing should not be a variable for adjusting Brexit," he said.