Gonhs Urges Government To Stand Strong On Nature Protection

The Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society notes the proceedings of the meeting between the RGP and Spanish fishermen that took place on the 3rd April, and urges the Government to stand firm in the protection of Gibraltar’s marine life. It must certainly not acquiesce to terms which, in the fishermen’s own admission, were scribbled ad hoc on the back of an envelope during the meeting.GONHS also notes the significant irony in that these fishermen felt that a tacit agreement from 1999, which is illegal, should be upheld when other agreements that were set up using legal instruments under the Cordoba Agreement, and which might have gone some way to protect the environment, are now not recognised by the new Spanish Government.

GONHS also notes the extraordinary help afforded to these fishermen by the RGP in the writing of their proposals, their translation and presentation to the Gibraltar Government. The activities that have been carried out illegally since the infamous 1999 agreement, which allowed a specific subset of fishermen to contravene Gibraltar law, have led to serious deterioration of fish stocks and habitats in Gibraltar waters. They must not continue. Such flagrant disregard for the law of the land is scandalous and seriously detrimental to Gibraltar’s marine resources. Government’s consent would only make things worse.

GONHS highlights that, if our laws are more stringent than those of the EU, then that is Gibraltar’s right. In terms of nature conservation, the EU sets a baseline that member states may then improve on at their discretion. It does not impose the use of any types of nets in a member state’s waters; the EU simply prohibits the use of certain nets. It is for Gibraltar to decide whether it wants to take this level of protection any further in order to protect its natural resources. These decisions must be based on the best interests of Gibraltar and its environment and not just outside commercial concerns. They must be made in Gibraltar alone, free of threats or harassment from those outside the Rock.

The Nature Protection Act is not unique in going further than European law. We have especially strict laws on ownership of fast launches and possession of tobacco. Far stricter than the EU’s or Spain’s. Perhaps Spain would want us to relax these too.

Further to the above, such restrictions on fishing are not particular to Gibraltar. Spain imposes extremely stringent conditions on fishing within parts of her waters, including areas close to Gibraltar. This is also true of other European Countries. For example, Spain imposes even stricter measures on the other side of the bay, where Fishing boats are not allowed to fish at all in the ‘Parque Natural del Estrecho’ close to Algeciras in order to conserve its marine biodiversity, as well as near Algeciras port and the Refinery for other practical reasons.

GONHS says: “They know they can’t get away with fishing in their reserve, but think that by coersion they’ll be able to get away with it in ours. We do not see flotillas of fishing boats heading to Punta Carnero in a bid to get the Spanish Government to allow them to break their laws. GONHS is very encouraged to have heard our own Government’s position, as relayed in the local press, that it will not compromise on any of Gibraltar’s laws in the case of fishing or any other subject. To allow fishing with nets in Gibraltar waters, Government would need to amend the Nature Protection Act (NPA). GONHS are 100% confident that Government would not do this. So far, we have seen positive initiatives from this Government related to the environment and conservation. We are expectant and confident that this will extend to the fishing issue. GONHS stands completely and steadfastly with Government’s position that the NPA cannot be contravened to allow commercial fishermen to plunder our marine biodiversity as has happened in the last 13 years.”

Gibraltar, with its very limited waters, can ill afford to allow detrimental practices within our waters. Our natural environment is too small and fragile to sustain such damage. We must act to ensure that our biological assets are effectively conserved.

GONHS has for many years been involved in the conservation and improvement of Gibraltar’s natural marine resources. It was instrumental in providing advice during the drafting of the Nature Protection Act in 1991 and has gone to great efforts to create reef habitat by building artificial reefs. These are important refuges for sea life and our organisation looks forward to further work on this front for the betterment of our biodiversity and quality of life for residents of the Rock.

GONHS Council

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