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Political clash over Spanish fishermen

The Gibraltar Government and the Opposition came to blows yesterday over the Rock’s marine policy and the number of illegal incursions by Spanish fishermen.

The salvo began when the GSD issued a statement condemning the way Spanish fishermen continue to come into Gibraltar’s waters to fish with illegal nets and rakes “on a daily basis,” despite the Alliance’s 2011 manifesto commitment to put a stop to the practice.

This drew flack from the Government who said it was the GSD that, when in office, introduced an “illegal agreement which was broken as soon as it was made and allowed all and sundry to fish in our waters totally unregulated.”

Initiating the exchange, the GSD accused the Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, and the Minister for the Environment, Dr John Cortes, of being inconsistent in their policy on netting and raking.

According to the GSD much of the illegal fishing today takes place in the area west of the runway, very near the artificial reef.

On a number of occasions the Government has said that the reef is replenishing fish stocks in the area, the GSD said.

“That may be so, but only for that fish stock to be then poached illegally by Spanish fishermen,” it added.

“If it were not so serious, this farce would be comical.”

The GSD added that in 2014 the Government brought amendments to the Nature Protection Act which introduced regulations to allow fishing with certain kinds of nets.

Without those regulations any kind of fishing with nets is illegal, the GSD said.

“Before and after those amendments to the Nature Protection Act, the Government had been in discussions with representatives of the Spanish Fishing Guilds as to its plans in relation to those fishing regulations.”

“The only reason why we know this is because of reports in the press in Spain and comments made by the leaders of the Spanish Fishing Guilds,” the GSD stated adding that Mr Picardo had refused to answer questions about those plans in Parliament.

The Opposition concluded its statement by accusing the Government of not being honest with the community and said they should “stop blaming the police for lack of enforcement and either start keeping their promises or admit to people that their policy is ‘aqui si se pesca’”.

Hitting back at those allegations and defending its marine policy, the Government said the GSD was the Party that “took the eye off the ball, which resulted in Spain declaring BGTW as a Spanish nature reserve”.

It added that it has made tremendous progress in improving the state of the marine environment.

The Government highlighted its habitat creation programmes, including reefs and seagrasses, its re-introduction programmes, including oysters, and the introduction of other initiatives such as continuous monitoring of marine life by underwater camera and diving “have brought marine conservation in Gibraltar to a level never before dreamt of”.

According to the Government, users of the sea recognize that this is the case and see the increasing abundance of marine life for themselves.

The Government added that it has stopped the large numbers of non-resident anglers and spear fishermen who used to take up the majority of the Rock’s shoreline.

On the commercial fishing front, incursions are very much reduced on the numbers of past years, the Government said.

The Government reiterated that the Ministry for the Environment is working with GONHS and other relevant agencies to investigate ongoing incidents with the aim of stopping all illegal fishing in BGTW.