FIRST it was scallops in the Channel. Then it was territorial growls over Rockall. Now it is a spat over gill nets west of Shetland.

As Brexit looms, so too do more fishing disputes between the UK and its former EU partners.

Yesterday the latest row saw trawler skippers from Shetland blast Spanish and French rivals.

READ MORE: Concern for native fish in Loch Etive and River Awe after mass trout escape

Their beef? That mainland Europeans were leaving often controversial gill nets – essentially underwater mesh curtains – bobbing unattended in the eastern Atlantic. So much so, said the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, that Scottish fishing boats were getting snagged in abandoned gear.

But, according to Shetland skippers, it is worse than that: as with French and Cornish scallop fishers off Normandy last summer, there has been a breakdown in communication. The conflict centres on a fishing ground between 30 and 50 miles west of Shetland.

James Anderson skippers the Alison Kay, a trawler. His take is that Spaniards are moving on to his patch.

He said: “We’ve been fishing here for the last 10 years, but this year there was a line of three boats with enough nets to cover the whole area.

“All in all there were 10 German-flagged Spanish boats with no track record of fishing here, taking up, I reckon, 200 square miles.

“In years gone by they may have been here, but there were fewer of them and they were much further out, much deeper. They’re aggressive too, telling us: ‘This is the area we fish, keep clear for 90 days.’”

There was no way to verify Mr Anderson’s account. But a trawler could not drag its nets in an area where other fishers had deployed gill nets or longlines without getting tangled. And Mr Anderson said the foreign vessels were leaving their nets behind when they went to port, Ullapool, to land their catches.

He said: “We’ve lost a lot of fishing because of this, and because they leave the gear we get caught in it and have to haul it up. It’s fine mesh plastic, a right mess.

“The Icelandic and Norwegian governments have severely limited this type of fishing, and it’s about time the UK and Scottish governments did so too.”

READ MORE: Scots fishing tourism to be hit by wild salmon stocks crisis 

Gill nets can be controversial. Some environmental groups say they pose a threat to dolphins and other sea mammals.

The Shetland skippers, however, argue that the technology is effectively blocking them from what they say are traditional Scottish waters.

Gordon Irvine, skipper of the Defiant, said the number of gillnetters and longliners in local waters had doubled in the past two years.

He said: “The problem is their attitude. They seem to think we can just move on, but they shoot their gear wherever they like and many times it boxes us in and we have to steam clear. If we tried anything like that off Spain or France there would be an outcry.”

Mr Irvine said his propeller was fouled by longlines last year and he had to go Baltasound, the harbour on Unst, for repairs.

He said: “We had just been in landing and when we went back out the longliners had moved to where we had been fishing before.

“We were steaming and one of them came in far too close. We weren’t sure if he shot his lines across us or how it got into the propeller, but we spoke to him and shot clear of his gear.

“When the boys went to bed they could feel the vibration in the cabin, so we heaved and went into Baltasound to get the divers.”

Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive in a statement issued yesterday highlighted concerns over plastics, especially so-called ghost gear –synthetic fishing tackle bobbing about in the oceans which kills and maims fish, birds and sea mammals.

The body’s chief executive, Simon Collins, said: “At a time when the public is rightly concerned about the amount of plastic dumped in the sea, it is particularly galling for our skippers to be forced off local fishing grounds by vessels that leave so much rubbish behind them.

“In the past few months the problem has intensified as they have come closer to our shores. They seem unconcerned about the plastic debris that they are polluting the seas with, really fine mesh and lines that pollute our waters, harm wildlife and foul our boats.

“Equally, many of them have behaved in a needlessly aggressive manner.”

Mr Collins has a solution: Brexit. “We urge the Scottish government,” he said, “to regulate these vessels’ access to our waters as soon as it can do so once we leave the Common Fisheries Policy.”