Britain’s fishing industry is demanding a team of Royal Navy bodyguards to protect them from violent French fishers after a ‘scallop war’ erupted in the Channel.
French and British fishers clashed in a fight over scallops - with French boats being accused of throwing smoke bombs and stones at English and Scottish vessels.
Dramatic footage of the incident was broadcast by France 3 Normandie, which showed the boats colliding as an object was hurled towards them.
Some British vessels are said to have limped home battered and showing signs of damage from the assault.
Among the British vessels was the The Honeybourne 3, a Scottish scallop dredger, which sailed into Shoreham following the clashes in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The clash comes amid a row that scallop stocks have been stripped by British firms, without giving the population a chance to recover.
It’s the latest incident in a long-running dispute over a scallop-rich area of the coast of France that French fishermen are prevented from harvesting due to local domestic environmental laws.
Violence had previously erupted in 2012 when British and French fishermen clashed over the rights to fish scallops in the area.
On this occasion, it prompted calls for the British to send the navy – but this went unanswered.
Now, Britain’s National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has repeated the call while also appealing for calm.
“We have raised the matter with the British Government and asked for protection for our vessels, which are fishing legitimately,” its chief executive, Barrie Deas, told the BBC.
“The deeper issues behind the clashes should be settled by talking around the table, not on the high seas where people could be hurt.”
Dimitri Rogoff, head of a Normandy fishermen’s association, said the violent scenes demonstrated ‘the exasperation’ of Normandy fishermen in a situation which persists and does not change.
He said: “I urge everyone to avoid these situations that endanger men’s lives.”
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) would be the one that authorises any use of the navy to protect British fishermen.
In a statement, the government said it was ‘aware’ of aggression directed towards UK fishing vessels in the Channel ‘not under UK control’.
However, defending the British fishermen, Whitehall insisted they were ‘operating in an area they are legally entitled to fish’.
Responding to the calls for additional protection, a spokeswoman said: “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.”