Deux bateaux de pêche s'affrontent en mer.

Decades of conflict between Norman and English fishermen

Mis à jour le
10 January 2020
There has been an old conflict over scallop fishing in the coast of Normandy. Last year, a genuine naval battle took place with about thirty Norman boats chasing English boats away. How is Brexit affecting the fishing sector and the conflict between fishermen?

What's behind the conflict between Norman and English fishermen?

A difference in restrictions regarding scallop fishing in the Baie de Seine has led to this conflict. To ensure a “responsible” use of the resource, French regulations are as follows:

    • The “external” area, off the coast of the Baie de Seine, is open for fishing from October 1st until mid-May. Scallops reproduce during summer.
    • The most scallop-rich area known as the “Baie de Seine” generally opens on December 1st. Foreign boats and boats over 16 metres long are banned from accessing this area in order to protect its abundant wildlife.

Map illustrating the fishing strategy for scallops in the Eastern Channel.

Other rules also apply in these two areas:

  • Fishing time: limited number of fishing days;
  • Quantity: quotas per boat;
  • Fishing method: ring size of the dredges.

Yet all these regulations apply exclusively to French fishermen; in the absence of a European regulatory framework, English fishermen are free to fish along the coast spanning some 12 nautical miles, also known as the “external” area.

The English, Scottish and Irish are therefore free to fish legally off the coast of Normandy, without any weight limits – a scallop-rich area in which Norman fishermen are banned from fishing for 1 month. Unsurprisingly, this is hard to accept, especially since these same scallops are sold on French markets just a few days later.

Norman fishermen are also concerned about protecting this resource as they watch such large boats catch significant quantities of scallops early in the season.

What is the impact of Brexit on French fishing?

In general, and understandibly, the English fishing sector is strongly pro Brexit: its estimate that 60% of fish caught in their waters are caught by foreigners.

Conversely, 30% of fish caught by French boats are caught in British waters; the prospect of Brexit is very worrying for fishermen from Brittany, Normandy and Boulogne-sur-Mer who are particularly dependent on these waters.

Scallops are one of the rare cases where the situation is reversed, with the English coming into French waters. English fishermen find it particularly surprising that the French accuse them of plundering their waters when they see French trawlers catching more fish in their waters than they manage to catch themselves.

In any case, there are considerable uncertainties surrounding Brexit, with potential implications for taxes and customs, for example. This climate of uncertainty has exacerbated tensions over scallop fishing and the situation will probably be clearer once the United Kingdom's precise exit conditions are known.

What is the current situation?

On November 25th 2018, the EU and the United Kingdom reached a withdraw agreement. The issue of fishing was approved by Europe. For the moment, and until December 31st 2020, the United Kingdom will apply the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The European fleet can access British waters and share its fishing quotas (maximum quantities of fish yjat can be removed from a defined area and period).
By January 2020, a fishing agreement must be reached between the various parties. Otherwise:

  • the United Kingdom will be subject to customs duties when exporting seafood products to the EU.
  • the United Kingdom will reassert its rights to its waters.
  • fishing in third-party waters will be banned: British boats will no longer be able to fish in European waters and European boats will no longer be able to fish in British waters.

Fishing is a crucial subject for both the EU and the United Kingdom with regard to future negotiations and relations. A matter to be continued... !