Scallop feud stirs waters between Britain and France


LONDON, Oct 11 (Reuters) - French fishermen hurled rocks andtried to intercept British trawlers just off the French coastthis week in a dispute over lucrative and fiercely contestedscallop beds.

The clash came to light on Thursday when British fishermenurged the British Navy to protect them following the incidentnear the French port of Le Havre.

"Something's got to be done about this," said John Hermse,chief executive of Britain's Scallop Association.

"This is extremely serious. If this incident is allowed toproliferate, people's lives would be endangered."

According to accounts from both sides, dozens of Frenchvessels encircled five British boats on Monday in an attempt tochase them away from the area, throwing rocks and other objectsand prompting a French navy patrol vessel to intervene.

French fishermen have long blamed overfishing on Britishtrawlers in those waters but open confrontation is rare in theChannel, which contains some the European Union's most hotlycontested fishing grounds.

The European Union has the third-largest fisheries sector inthe world after China and Peru, with more than 80,000EU-registered boats competing for dwindling fish stocks.

Brussels tries to manage fisheries by setting limits on howmuch fish member states can catch but quotas are a regularsource of contention.

A spokesman for the French maritime prefecture said tensionsflared when up to 40 French boats encircled British vessels andtried to chase them off.

"Fishermen can be quite hotheaded," the spokesman said,adding that French mediators had to facilitate talks between thesides to defuse the conflict.

Britain's Maritime Management Organisation (MMO), whichmanages the British fishing fleet, said it was theresponsibility of the French authorities to ensure the safety ofBritish vessels in their waters.

"The MMO is continuing high-level discussions with Frenchcounterparts to seek assurances that these issues will notrecur," said Rod Henderson, head of coastal operations for theMarine Management Organisation.

"Had the situation occurred in UK waters, the Royal Navywould have responded."

(Reporting by Maria Golovnina and Natalie Huet; editing byAndrew Roche)