UK officials are in crisis talks with their French counterparts after a violent clash over scallops erupted between fishermen in the English Channel.
Rocks, smoke bombs and other projectiles were reportedly hurled at English and Scottish vessels from nearly 40 French boats during the confrontation in the early hours of Tuesday.
Outnumbered by the French one to seven, the British boats were allegedly attacked by the rival flotilla that had gathered on Wednesday night in protest over fishing rights.
Dramatic footage of the incident originally broadcast by France 3 Normandie showed boats colliding as an object was thrown toward them.
Some of the British vessels are said to have later returned to UK harbours with signs of “criminal” damage. No one was injured.
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Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, said the incident was “high seas piracy” but said the French had agreed to a request for talks.
“We need to decrease tensions in the whole area,” he told the BBC.
The long-running dispute is over a scallop-rich area of the Channel that French fishermen are prevented from harvesting due to domestic environmental laws.
Dimitri Rogoff, head of a Normandy fishermen’s association, said the violent scenes “demonstrate the exasperation of Normandy fishermen in a situation which persists and does not change”.
“I urge everyone to avoid these situations that endanger men’s lives,” he said.
The UK’s environment secretary says the British boats were fishing legally, while France has agreed to send more police vessels to prevent further clashes.
Earlier, a UK government spokesman said: “We are aware of reports of aggression directed towards UK fishing vessels in an area of the English Channel not under UK control.
“These vessels were operating in an area they are legally entitled to fish.
“The safety of the UK fleet is our highest priority and we will continue to monitor the presence and activities of vessels in the area.
“We are in contact with industry and the French administration to encourage meaningful dialogue and prevent further incidents from occurring.”
The European Commission urged France and Britain to find an “amicable” solution.