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Govt defends record on marine protection

The Gibraltar Government has defended its record on fishing and protecting the marine environment, dismissing GSD criticism and insisting that the problem of commercial fishing by Spanish boats in British waters was worse under the previous administration.

The government was responding after GSD MP Trevor Hammond said local anglers felt “hard done by” and endured a tough regime while Spanish vessels fished “with impunity” in Gibraltar waters.

“In these days when the whole world is aware of the importance of protecting our oceans, we are truly proud of what we have achieved to bring much order to what used to be an embarrassing free-for-all,” said Dr John Cortes, the Minister for the Environment.

“Bona fide Gibraltarian anglers see and recognise the improvement and fully support our efforts, and we will continue to do more to ensure there is abundant marine biodiversity and abundant fish for those who enjoy angling.”

In a statement, the government said the marine regulations it had introduced had done away with the uncontrolled influx of Spanish anglers and spear fishermen.

Not only that, initiatives such as the Sandy Bay reef and the introduction of marine protected areas had helped boost marine life in Gibraltar waters, which was now “better than it has been for years”.

The government insisted it was “downright untrue” to suggest that laws targeted locals but not foreign nationals.

It said that no locals had been prosecuted to date under the marine regulations, while non-resident foreign nationals had been processed for breaching rules on commercial fishing, spear fishing and tuna fishing.

The government added that the number of Spanish commercial fishing vessels that fish illegally in Gibraltar waters was “well down” on past figures.

“While law enforcement is under the control of the Royal Gibraltar Police, the Government will continue to use its own resources to reduce the impact of unsustainable fishing methods,” the government statement said.

“This has been done with more success than ever, and will continue.”

“It is all in sharp contrast to the policy of Mr Hammond’s own GSD, which had an illegal fishing agreement with Spain which directed the police to ignore our laws.”

The government insisted the GSD’s fishing agreement had “opened the doors wide” to Spanish fishing boats who “far exceeded the numbers and abused the minimum distance”.

“Commercial fishing then was with impunity and there were very many more incursions and much more depletion of fish than there is now,” the statement added.

“The GSD’s illegal agreement with Spain undid the success of the 1991 Nature Protection Act and is responsible for Spanish fishermen feeling entitled to fish in BGTW.”

The government also played down the GSD’s complaint that local fishermen had to comply with bans on certain species, adding that this was a common technique used worldwide to boost marine life.

The closed season on the fishing of octopus, for example, was introduced following the recommendations of the Fishing Working Group, on which all major fishing organisations are represented, and following technical advice, as a way of improving stocks.

The Working Group has recommended closed seasons on a number of other species.

Tuna fishing is also allowed, albeit with a quota system.

“For the first time such fishing is regulated accurately which is important in maintaining Gibraltar’s reputation,” the government said.