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Is Brexit about to rewrite the rules for fishing on the English Channel?

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Is Brexit about to rewrite the rules for fishing on the English Channel?
10:08 CEST+02:00
With tensions already high between the French and British fishing fleets after a confrontation over scallops, Brexit could change the game completely by redrawing battle lines in the Channel.
French fishermen are anxious to avoid a Brexit that could shut them out of British territorial waters, while in British ports, trawlermen hope such moves could reinvigorate their fishing industry.
   
The "Scallop Wars" in August saw French boats attack British ones in the Seine Bay off the Normandy coast.
   
Paris had banned French boats from scalloping in the area between May and October to preserve the stocks.
   
So when British boats exercised their rights to go for them, a French flotilla mustered, hurling rocks and smoke bombs and ramming the UK trawlers.
   
"The British started fishing a month and a half before us. They come with triple our capacity. It's maddening," said scalloper Pierre Marie, second-in-command on the Bonne Saint-Rita.
 
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Marie was unloading his catch at the crack of dawn in Port-en-Bessin-Huppain, a small fishing town on the Normandy north coast of France.
   
Marie was involved on the night of August 27 when around 35 French boats chased off the British trawlers, some of which were damaged.
   
"It's not the first time that we've kicked them out. Every year it's the same nonsense," he told AFP.
 
French hard Brexit concerns
 
But the running battles do not necessarily mean that all French fishermen want to see a clean-cut Brexit, because that could involve Britain re-imposing exclusive fishing rights over its waters.
   
"It's a sensitive subject. We have to see what the alternatives would be," said Marie who, like several others in the town, is hesitant on the topic.
   
For the scallopers, who rarely fish in British waters, "a hard Brexit would be very good news," said Olivier Eudes, who runs the local fish auction.
 
"They would crack open the champagne because the Channel would be split down the middle and the British ships could not fish in our waters," he said.
   
But it is a different story for deep sea trawlers, which take 60 percent of their catch in British waters.
   
Manuel Evrard, head of the Normandy Fishermen's Organisation, said: "A lot of the set-up here is based around the deep sea trawlers.
   
"They are the ones bringing in the high volume of fish that keeps the auctions going.
 
Scallop wars: France tells UK fishermen to keep out of contested waters
Photo: AFP
 
"It is important to stay united," he said.
   
British and EU negotiators are at loggerheads over the conditions of Britain's withdrawal from the EU next year and there is still no agreement on the shape of future economic ties after Britain leaves.
 
Admiration for French rivals
 
Even though it has cost the British fishing fleet, the French instinct for unity is respected on the other side of the Channel.
   
"I admire their solidarity. They all stick together and generally get their way because they cause mayhem if they don't," said Drew McLeod, 50, the skipper and owner of the Van Dijck trawler in Brixham harbour.
   
The British scallopers involved in the Seine Bay clashes are based in the town, home to 17,000 people, on the Devon coast, southwest England.
   
Many boats in Brixham harbour carry pro-Brexit banners reading "No fishing sell-out" showing the UK surrounded by its vast territorial waters.
   
Opinion polls suggest at least 90 percent of British fishermen voted for Britain to leave the EU.
 
McLeod has his hopes for Brexit, but fears British control of the seas will be given up as part of a trade-off.
 
Scallop wars: British fishermen ask for protection from the French
Photo: AFP
   
"I don't think they will draw a line down the middle of the Channel. If they did, that would work fantastically for us. But they won't," he told AFP.
   
"Quotas will probably end up being used as a bargaining chip."
 
Brexit opportunity
 
A 53-year-old Brixham lifelong fisherman standing on the quayside, who did not want to give his name, said Brexit was a "massive opportunity" but predicted: "We will get sold out.
   
"What would be nice is control of our own waters. But there's not a chance of that. Zero."
   
Mark Wise, a research fellow from Plymouth University in Devon, said Britain's strong maritime history was a key part of its island nation identity.
 
Although the fishing industry only accounts for less than one percent of the European Union's gross domestic product, it "makes a lot of noise and has a political impact," he said.
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