Type to search

Commercial Fishing


scallop wars the shape of things to come

Are today’s scallop wars the shape of things to come? While there still being no agreement between French and British fishermen, these current skirmishes over fishing rights in the Baie de Seine could be the precursor of further conflict as Brexit looms ever closer.

Although an outline deal between the two sides was agreed last week, this ultimately collapsed with the financial compensation figure offered by the French in return for UK scallops boats not to fish off the Normandy coast deemed not being high enough by their British counterparts.

Some have highlighted this latest fracas as being similar to the ‘Cod Wars’ of the 1950s and 1970s between Iceland and the UK, as Iceland increased its territorial waters from 12 miles and then ultimately 200 miles from the coast, excluding British fishing vessels that traditionally fished there.

However, the reality is very different, not least because the UK scallop fleet is nomadic and not dependent on these waters of Normandy for their livelihoods, in stark comparison to the British distant water fleet of the 1970s, which was reliant on Icelandic waters.

Another major difference this time around is Brexit, which should return control to the UK of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) out to 200 miles or the median line. British fishing leaders are quick to point out that at the moment under the Common Fisheries Policy the French take 84% of English Channel cod, while the UK share is only 9%.

After Brexit UK vessels will no longer have an automatic right to fish in the Baie de Seine because it is within the French EEZ,  but equally so, French fishermen elsewhere will no longer have an automatic right to fish in the UK EEZ. And with European fleets currently catching around six times as much in UK waters, as UK vessels do in EU waters, it is the French who will be extremely worried about their future fishing rights.

It also raises the prospect of even more conflict in the future, especially if an amicable deal on fishing access is not agreed between the UK and EU post Brexit.