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Scallop Wars arising from the Common Fisheries Policy

The recent ‘Scallop Wars’ have highlighted some of the key challenges the fishing industry faces when seeking to operate in line with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), arising in this case from its interaction with national legislation. Recent events could be seen as a warning of things to come as a result of Brexit, pending the outcome of ongoing negotiations.

In summary, the background to these unfortunate incidents come down to the fact that Scallops are not subject to EU regulation and are a matter of national competence. Under the CFP all vessels have equal access to EU waters up to the 12-nautical mile limit of each member state. As a result, UK flagged vessels have the right to fish in the French Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to the French 12-mile territorial limit. However, the French Government has decided unilaterally to close the scallop fishery in the Bay of the Seine – but of course, this only applies to French flagged vessels.

The outcome of this is that French vessels were not allowed to fish these grounds by restrictions imposed by their own government, but the UK vessels were allowed access to fish under EU rules; leading to a situation that the French vessel owners took exception to by protesting and, in some cases, throwing petrol bombs and other missiles at UK vessels. As the “action” played out in the French EEZ it was covered by French jurisdiction, meaning that only the French police had the authority to intervene and attempt to contain the situation. It could be argued that this was a task they appeared somewhat reluctant to carry out. The criticism of the UK government’s failure to protect their fishing fleet was, therefore, a little unfair – given the particular circumstances and integral matter of jurisdictions in international waters.

What is not, perhaps, so well-known is that the reverse situation also applies. Under the London Convention French vessels, amongst others, are in fact allowed to fish inside the UK 12-nautical mile limit, between 6 and 12 miles- even on occasions when UK vessels’ activities are restricted. Such trawling frequently conflicts with UK fishermen fishing inside their own territorial limits with static (fixed) gear such as pots and creels, which are then towed away by the mobile gear of foreign vessels.

When the UK leaves the EU in March the CFP will also end. Technically, we will have exclusive use of our EEZ and access will be a matter for negotiation. It is hoped that these negotiations will be carried out in a clear and robust manner, which carefully considers the impact on both English and French fishing vessels.

If you’re looking for help and advice on any legal matters relating to fishing boundaries, please get in touch with Andrew Oliver, a partner in the firm’s Shipping and Transport department, by emailing or speak to the team today by calling 01482 325 242.

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