Theresa May has called for an “amicable solution” to the ongoing row between French and British fisherman after their dispute over scallops turned violent.
It comes after French fisherman allegedly threw smoke bombs, rocks and other projectiles at English and Scottish boats in the early hours of Tuesday morning, with holes reported to have been left in some vessels.
Footage from the English Channel showed rival boats colliding with each other and objects being thrown.
Responding to the row while visiting Nigeria, the Prime Minister said: “I think it’s important we see an amicable solution to what has happened in the Channel.
“It’s what we want and it’s what France wants and we will be working on that.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said he felt “enormous sympathy” for the scallop fishermen as he is also “from a fishing background”.
“My heart goes out to all the fishermen caught up in this,” he said in Dover as swimmer Lewis Pugh completed his Long Swim in the English Channel. “I’m from a fishing background myself, and I do have enormous sympathy.”
In a statement, he added: “They were fishing entirely legally, they had every right to be in those waters and we talked to the French authorities in order to ensure that we have a protocol.
“These are French waters – it’s the responsibility of the French to ensure that those who have a legal right to fish can continue to fish uninterrupted.”
It has been claimed around 40 French boats confronted around a dozen British vessels in the scallop-rich waters of Baie de Seine, off the Normandy coast.
UK fishermen have since called for the Royal Navy’s protection amid fears their lives are being put at risk.
Jim Portus, chief executive of the South Western Fish Producers Organisation, said: “They are endangering life at sea by being unprofessional.
“The French might look like heroes to the French coastal communities but it’s really awful to put other mariners in danger.”
One of the British vessels, The Golden Promise, had a window smashed while another suffered fire damage after a flare was thrown during the skirmishes, Mr Portus said.
He also claimed a representative of the French scallop industry had spoken of his “regret” at the incidents and promised there would not be a repeat.
French maritime authorities looked to ease tensions on Wednesday as they called the confrontation “very dangerous” and saying they hoped things would “calm down”.
UK boats are allowed to fish in the Baie de Seine waters most of the year but, under rules imposed by France, their own fisherman are only permitted to harvest scallops between 1 October and 15 May.
Tensions have been high between British and French fishermen for some 15 years over the issue.
Recently, UK and French fishing bodies have also agreed limits for British vessels, but talks ended without a deal this year.
French fishermen have accused the British of depleting stocks and want them to face the same rules, leading to the confrontation.
Normandy fishing chief Dimitri Rogoff said: “The French went to contact the British to stop them working and they clashed with each other.”
He revealed “around 40” French boats had gathered overnight in protest at British “pillaging” of the scallop supply.
Mr Rogoff claimed French negotiators blocked a deal this year because they had had enough.
“For the Brits, it’s an open bar, they fish when they want, where they want, and as much as they want,” he said.
“We don’t want to stop them from fishing, but they could at least wait until 1 October so that we can share,” he said.
But, he added the situation would soon change after Brexit, when the UK becomes a “third party” and will “no longer have access to these areas”.
One of the UK negotiators who has worked on past scallop deals has told Sky News he will be travelling to France in the next few days for fresh talks.
A UK government spokesperson 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.”