France will compensate its fishermen or teach them new skills if there is a collapse in talks for a post-Brexit trade deal that threatens their livelihoods, a minister said, in an effort to avoid skirmishes at sea between French and British boats.
French fishing boats have in the past rammed British vessels and their crews have hurled projectiles when they felt rivals invaded their waters, most recently during the so-called scallop war of 2018.
Many think skirmishes could flare up again, particularly if no trade deal is reached between Britain and the European Union, as existing transitional rules that give still give EU boats access to British waters expire at the end of the year.
"I am very keen to prevent incidents at sea and the exasperation, maybe even the anger, that expresses itself," French seas minister Annick Girardin told Reuters.
"I am a fisherman's daughter, I know what these type of clashes can be like and the consequences they can have. I will try to prevent them," Girardin, who comes from the tiny French archipelago of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon off the coast of Canada, said in an interview.
As seas minister, she has been in charge of drawing up a contingency plan to compensate those involved in fishing. She said they would receive financial aid and even support to learn new skills and change jobs, whether or not a deal on fishing was agreed.
"I know sailors don't like to put down their bags, no one wishes to be subsidised for not working, but that's probably something we're going to have to contend with," she said.
A third of France's 7,500 fishermen will be affected by Brexit, she said, mostly along the coasts of Calais, Normandy and Brittany.
French fishermen have lobbied Macron not to give an inch over fishing rights, but his government has quietly dropped initial demands to maintain the status quo and has sought to prepare them for concessions.
While a deal would almost certainly mean reduced quotas in British waters, no deal would mean zero access for EU boats. Britain and EU have set Sunday as the deadline to seal a new trade pact.
"I am an optimist by nature, but you have to be realistic at the same time. We have only a few hours left until Sunday. Positions are very far apart on fishing," she said.
"I come from Saint Pierre and Miquelon, fishing talks with Canada were very tough. During negotiations, you have to prepare for the best as well as for the worst."