Spain rocked by deepening Gibraltar fishing dispute
With no end in sight to Gibraltar’s ban on Spanish vessels casting nets in water around the Rock of Gibraltar, Spanish fishermen’s representative Pedro Maza expressed his shock at Gibraltar’s interpretation of a Spanish scientist’s technical report recommending that fishing resume in the disputed waters.
As the five-month stand-off between Spain and Gibraltar intensifies, Maza, president of the Andalusian Federation of Fisheries Associations, accuses the Gibraltarians investigating the report as comprising a team of “environmentalists with no knowledge about fishing.”
Both sides in July agreed that Ignacio Sobrino, director of the Oceanographic Center in Cádiz, southern Spain, would prepare a report on sustainable fishing in Gibraltar waters while a simultaneous report by international wildlife expert Indrani Lutchman for Gibraltarian technicians was undertaken.
Maza complained that Lutchman “does not have a clue about this matter” and that the report authors had deliberately twisted Sobrino’s scientific data.
In the midst of heated technical arguments, a Spanish vessel cast nets in Gibraltar waters last week and refused to leave when ordered by Gibraltar Defense Police, the military force in the area. Five Spanish vessels also entered the waters but cast no nets and retreated when told to by Royal Gibraltar Police, the area’s civilian force.
Adding fuel to the fire, Spain’s Foreign Ministry made an official complaint to the British Embassy in Madrid to “express its displeasure” at Gibraltar’s ongoing ban on net fishing, claiming the issue is politically motivated and unrelated to fishing or environmental concerns.
Rejecting claims that there had been any misunderstanding about an agreement made with the Gibraltar Chief Minister earlier this month, Maza said, “I have all the evidence that we have not misinterpreted anything. It is astonishing that we have been discussing a series of issues only to find now that everything has changed.”
Maza has stated his intention to ask Spain’s King Juan Carlos to intervene on their behalf before the tense situation reaches a boiling point. He warned that the situation will get much worse and vowed that the fishing vessels will return to Gibraltar waters “whatever the consequences.”
Despite the major setback the fishermen have suffered, Maza continues to look for a solution and said that if problems persist from this point forward they “will not have been of my or the fishermen’s making.”
While Spain insists its fishermen are legally entitled to fish with nets in Gibraltar’s waters under Spanish law and European Union regulations established in 1999, Gibraltar reasserted its sovereignty over the waters in March this year on environmental grounds. Spanish fishermen are suspicious of Gibraltar’s hidden agenda for enforcing the protected status, believing Gibraltar’s aim in dissuading fishing is to regain land to develop a luxury marina.