PARIS (AFP) - French and British fishermen agreed Monday (Sept 17) to end their battle over access to scallop-rich waters in the English Channel, three weeks after the long-simmering conflict flared into a high-seas confrontation.
The new deal is hoped to bring to a close the years-long "Scallop Wars" over fishing the prized molluscs in the fertile waters off the Baie de Seine area of Normandy in north-west France.
Tensions boiled over late last month when dozens of French boats confronted a handful of British rivals in the waters to keep them from the area, with a few vessels ramming others as angry French fishermen threw stones and smoke-bombs.
"We managed to get an agreement. Tonight at midnight, they (the British fishermen) will leave the area in the Channel's east and will only return on Nov 1," French industry representative Pascal Coquet told AFP.
French fishermen have been incensed that British scallop boats can access the area, while French boats are only allowed to fish there between October to May in order to protect stocks.
The French side had hoped to end a loophole that exempts British boats smaller than 15 metres long, giving them first dibs at one of the main scallop sources off the French coast before the official season.
However, it failed to get the smaller British boats banned.
"We were forced to drop the 15-metre requirement," Coquet said, because time was running out as British boats were "ravaging" the fishing stocks.
"It is in order to avoid catastrophe. They fish everything and there are other altercations," Coquet said, adding that he is satisfied with the compromise even it came "a little late".
The French side also agreed to give the British fishermen an additional fishing quota, he said.
'Better than no deal'
Jim Portus, the chief executive of Britain's South Western Fish Producers Organisation, agreed it was "a compromise".
"It's not the best deal... but it's better than no deal," Portus said.
Britain's Fisheries Minister George Eustice commended the UK fishing industry for "its patience throughout negotiations and welcome this pragmatic outcome".
The deal came after weeks of bitter negotiations between representatives of both sides.
Under a preliminary deal reached in early September, it seemed UK boats under 15 metres would also be barred, but talks in London fell apart last week when British fishermen demanded more compensation than the French side could stomach.
"It's a loophole that we've been condemning for five years," Normandy fishing chief Dimitri Rogoff previously told AFP of the small-boat exemption.
The new agreement must now be endorsed by both governments, France's agriculture ministry told AFP.
The issue has become even more sensitive given the uncertain future of arrangements for fishing in the area after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019, particularly if the UK has to quit without securing a withdrawal deal.
The Seine-Maritime region's local MP Sebastien Jumel said in a statement late Monday that the "raids by fishermen across the Channel and the significant damage to our local fisheries raise the question of defending the interests of our fishing industry".
Along with several local mayors, he demanded that the French fishing industry "not be relegated to the second rank of interests that France defends during negotiations" over Brexit.