Saturday, 20 April 2013

Recommendations made by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF)


The British Government should support the Government of Gibraltar in enforcing fisheries protection legislation, resist the Government of Spain’s support for illegal activities”, and instruct the Royal Navy to support Gibraltar’s government in the consequent defence of territorial waters and their resources. 

That was one of the recommendations made by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF) in its November 2012 reported submitted to the Environmental Audit Committee.“The role of the Governor seems to have switched from looking after Gibraltar’s interests to that of not upsetting the Government of Spain,” says the report.“

The Government of Gibraltar is seeking to manage its natural resources sustainably, but is being thwarted by the illegal fishing activities of Spanish boats. In fact, if the waters were Spanish, it is likely that it would be illegal to fish there under Spanish law,” says the report adding that “it would normally be assumed that the role of Governor and of the FCO would be to ensure the best interests of Gibraltar and its citizens – which in this case would be to put in place measures to stop this illegal activity. 

However, the exact opposite appears to be the case, with the UK government putting enormous pressure on the Gibraltar Government to allow this illegal fishing.”The Committee’s inquiry is examining whether the strategy set out in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office White Paper, The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability, “embodies the principles of sustainable development; appropriately trades-off environmental protection, social development and economic growth; and fulfils the UK Government’s responsibility to protect biodiversity in the United Kingdom Overseas territories.”


The report highlights the “failure of HMG and the Royal Navy to support the Government of Gibraltar in its attempts to enforce environmental protection legislation against illegal incursions of Spanish fishermen and the paramilitary Guardia Civil into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) in the context of actions from a neighbouring country”.

It notes that the British Government failed also to deal in a timely manner with the Spanish government putting forward British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) as part of its own Special Area of Conservation under the Habitats Directive, a proposal which was accepted by the European Commission, so that parts of BGTW are considered a UK SAC and the whole of BGTW are considered part of a Spanish SAC, leading to retrospective action in the European Court of Justice.The UKOTCF recommends in its submission that the UK Government “take a more environmentally responsible line in areas of UKOT issues where it has direct responsibility.”

The reports states that, despite a law being passed in 1991, Gibraltar’s territorial waters (BGTW) are regularly fished by Spanish vessels despite this being illegal under that law.“A 1999 ‘understanding’ agreed between the then Chief Minister of Gibraltar and the Spanish fishermen (albeit under duress) allowed for a certain number of Spanish boats to fish and the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) would turn a blind eye. 

This allowing of breaking the law was condoned by the then British Government as it stopped continuation of on-going conflict with Spain. 

With a new government elected in Gibraltar in late 2011, this ‘understanding ‘ was revoked, leading to further dispute and conflict, and the setting up of the Commission. 

There have been regular incursions by Spanish fishing boats often accompanied by paramilitary Guardia Civil boats.”

The submission also argues that despite these definitive statements of responsibility, little action has been forthcoming from the UK Government.


The submission also argues that despite these definitive statements of responsibility, little action has been forthcoming from the UK Government.

“The RGP are tasked with enforcing the 1991 legislation and are therefore responsible for arresting illegal fishing boats, some few of which have been intercepted and arrested. 
However, the Commissioner of the RGP is (quite rightly in the Forum’s view) not prepared to send unarmed police officers in small boats against armed, larger Guardia Civil boats.” But it says that, while the Royal Navy may rely on a defence that they do not undertake fisheries protection duties (unlike elsewhere in the world) and their only concern is maintaining the integrity of sovereign waters, “then that still does not explain why armed Spanish Guardia Civil boats accompanying the Spanish boats are not tackled when they are clearly not using the waters simply for navigation purposes.

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