UK minister backs scallop talks to avert new Channel clashes

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Dozens of French boats confronted a handful of British rivals in the waters late last month over the area's prized scallops

A deal to end clashes between British and French fishermen over access to scallops off the Normandy coast would be "the right outcome" when negotiators meet Wednesday, British Fisheries Minister George Eustice said before the talks.

Eustice's department will host British and French fishing and government officials to try to avoid new clashes between their vessels, after tensions flared last week in scallop-rich waters off northern France over the pricey delicacy.

"The industry (is) coming together... to see if they can get back up an agreement similar to that which has pertained in the previous five years, which is the right outcome on this if we can get a solution along those lines," Eustice told a parliamentary committee.

Tensions boiled over last Tuesday when five British vessels sparred with dozens of French boats in the sensitive Seine Bay, with video footage showing fishermen from both sides ramming each other.

The clashes, which occurred around 12 nautical miles from the Normandy coast, were the most serious in years of wrangling over the area's scallops.

French fishermen are incensed that British boats are accessing the highly productive waters, while their own government limits them to fishing there to between October and May to allow stocks to replenish.

Deals struck previously exempted British boats less than 15 metres (50 feet) long from the restrictions, a loophole French fishermen want to see closed and which led to deadlock in reaching an agreement earlier this year.

"All of the (UK) flotilla must be bound by the agreements," Normandy fishing chief Dimitri Rogoff told AFP on the eve of the talks.

"We will not move an iota," he added, predicting his negotiating entourage would be "intransigent" in the talks because the Seine Bay was an "essential" area for the French.

The latest skirmish in the long-running so-called "Scallops Wars" has led to France placing its navy on standby in the area, with Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert saying it was "ready to intervene in case of clashes".

Eustice, who discussed the situation with his French counterpart last week, said the two countries were in agreement on the issue.

"We haven't had further incidents since... they also recognise that under international law those (British) boats had a right to be there," he added.