Scottish fishermen are set to meet with their French counterparts in Paris today in an effort to resolve an ongoing dispute over scallops in the Channel that has seen violent protests and damage to boats.
The meeting comes after dredging crews from the UK - including the Peterhead-registered Honeybourne III - came under attack during a protest by French fishermen over rights to rich fishing grounds not far outside French territorial waters.
Angry clashes between the fleets broke out in the early hours of Tuesday morning, with boats colliding and rocks, flares and other objects being thrown.
Reports said five UK dredgers came under fire from around 40 French boats in waters 14 miles off the coast of Normandy, which are known as a hotspot for the shellfish.
Three Scottish vessels were forced to return to port for repairs after the confrontation, two with smashed windows and another with nets laid by protesters tangled round its propellers.
Video footage has emerged online showing the Honeybourne III being rammed by another boat and bombarded with stones during the altercation. The incident has sparked calls for naval protection for the UK fleet.
The long-running dispute is over a scallop-rich area of the Channel that French fishermen are prevented from harvesting for several months of the year due to domestic environmental laws. French crews can only fish for scallops from 1 October until 15 May, to allow local stocks to recover. However, UK vessels do not face the same restrictions.
French dredgers want the visiting fleet to stay north of a line running from Barfleur in Normandy to Cap d’Antifer to the east, to prevent over-fishing in the area.
The Scottish White Fish Producers Association (SWFPA), Scotland’s largest fishing association, has condemned the “appalling” attacks.
Chief executive Mike Park said: “There are high emotions. It’s a dangerous job anyway. These actions could cause severe damage to vessels and deliver a real threat to the life of hands.
“Our fleet has done nothing illegal – absolutely nothing.”
The violent clashes “demonstrate the exasperation of Normandy fishermen in a situation which persists and does not change”, according to Dimitri Rogoff, president of a Normandy fishermen’s association.
“I urge everyone to avoid these situations that endanger men’s lives,” he added.
Fishermen’s representatives from Scotland and the UK are today travelling to Paris in the hope a peaceful solution can be reached.
Mr Park said: “We sent an email to our French colleagues saying this is now getting out of hand, asking them to sit down round the table so we can try to clear a deal to avoid further conflict. We received a reply suggesting we go and meet them.
“We hope we can strike a deal, as in previous years, which means we get the effort we need to fish elsewhere and can leave the French there.
“We want to find a reciprocal agreement that will solve the problem.”