The standoff between Spain and Gibraltar over fishing rights cooled off temporarily thanks to a new Andalusian ban on fishing in Algeciras Bay on weekends. But Spanish fishermen warned: “On Monday we will fish again; this is our only livelihood.”
Despite the two-day truce, the tension has been steadily mounting ever since late March, when Gibraltar unilaterally decided to break its 1999 agreement with the fishing sector and prevent Spanish fishermen from casting their nets in what it claims to be its waters.
By virtue of the Utrecht Treaty of 1713, which makes no specific mention of the water surrounding Gibraltar, Spain only recognizes the entrance to the port area as belonging to The Rock, while Britain claims three miles of territorial sea around the colony.
Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo, who will meet with his British counterpart on Tuesday to discuss the matter, said that the solution “requires dialogue.”
But until a solution is found, the 300 or so families whose livelihood depends on fishing in this area say that they are growing desperate.
Leoncio Fernández, head of the fishermen’s association of La Línea de la Concepción, told the Efe news agency that “90 percent of the families who live off this are in need.”
After three months without work, the sector has lost around 80,000 euros, he said. “My own family is resorting to \[the Catholic Church-run charity\] Cáritas. This is shameful. It’s going to be worse than the 1930s.”
The situation is also dividing fishermen from La Línea and nearby Algeciras, which has decided not to respect Gibraltar’s ban. While La Línea’s 53 trawlers have stayed at home all this time, fishermen from Algeciras have been going out and say they will continue to do so “even if it is in the company of the Civil Guard.”
Last Wednesday, the Civil Guard escorted three vessels and had a verbal confrontation with their colleagues from Gibraltar, who were trying to prevent the boats from casting their nets. Fishermen from La Línea say that “the attitude of the Algeciras boats constitutes a provocation.”
The confrontation has reached the political class, with La Línea Mayor Gema Araujo, of the Socialist Party, accusing Algeciras Mayor José Ignacio Landaluce, of the Popular Party (PP), of directing the fishermen’s actions. The PP has traditionally supported bilateral negotiations with Britain over the issue, while the Socialists prefer three-way talks that would include Gibraltar, putting them more in tune with The Rock’s authorities.
Fernández, who represents the La Línea fishermen, said that “politicians should die of shame” over their inability to solve the problem. “The politician who is unable to resolve this situation should resign.”
Now, they feel, the matter is up to them. Fishermen from La Línea and Algeciras have met to create a unified front that will negotiate with Gibraltarian authorities with a single voice.
“We have a license to fish in the Mediterranean and nobody can take that away from us, because it’s from the European Union,” said Fernández.