No Gibraltarian and come to that anybody living in the real world will believe the confrontations at sea last week over the reef laying and the six hour car queues to leave Gibraltar at the weekend were anything but linked. Thanks to the world media from the BBC to Fox News much of the rest of the world now knows that too. Even Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and the Foreign Office issued urgent protests to Madrid.
The confrontation started last Wednesday when a tug was laying concrete blocks in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters between the North Mole and the runway. Nor was this action a surprise because the creation of reefs in different parts of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters, as part of Gibraltar’s marine protection strategy, was announced when the Government published the fishing report. These reefs will increase biodiversity and provide refuge for many marine species.
This was not some whacky idea dreamed up by Environment Minister Dr John Cortes over a plate of calamari but approved science. So whilst the Andalucía Government accuses Gibraltar of potentially damaging the environment it has emerged that Sevilla has created 480 square kms of exactly the same reef structures off its own coastline – a coastline that it shares with Gibraltar.
So why has Andalucía done this? It has installed 25 artificial reefs over the period 1989 to 2011to protect the marine environment and promote traditional fishing methods. These being more selective allow the regeneration of fishing resources and to ensure rational exploitation.
The whole scheme has cost 12 million euros and whilst Andalucía has paid 25 per cent of the cost the balance has come from EU fisheries funds – in other words EU tax payers throughout the community.
Andalucía has installed these reefs which contribute to the protection of the coastal zones and some of these are of high biological interest just as Gibraltar’s waters are. Most importantly they are also a defence against overfishing.
The reefs prevent the use of drag nets which are not authorized and their installation preserves the ecological value of the sites. It also promotes the breeding of many species of interest to fishermen. Once the number of these fish increases it is possible for them to be caught in a sustainable manner.
Perhaps somebody needs to sit down and explain all of this to the owner of the “Divina Providencia”, which fishes illegally in Gibraltar’s waters and the neighbouring La Línea and Algeciras fishing communities. The Andalucía Government, which is a socialist and far left coalition, should be asking itself a lot of uncomfortable questions on this issue too.
All of that being so the actions of the Guardia Civil at sea last Wednesday and Thursday and also of Spain in protesting against Gibraltar’s reef laying had nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with their claim over Gibraltar’s waters. Sovereignty in other words. Yet Gibraltarians and indeed the UK Government knew that anyway.
Hence we move on to Friday and the weekend when Spain again shot itself in the foot by making Gibraltarians, Spaniards, EU citizens and other nationals queue in their cars in the blistering heat for up to seven hours to cross the border in to La Línea.
Whatever argument Spain may have about Gibraltar protecting the environment, and on the face of it there is none, all the world has now seen the true face of the Partido Popular Government in Madrid. Nobody believes the queues had anything to do with the search for contraband but everything to do with Gibraltar having stood up for its internationally recognised rights. Its territorial waters are recognised by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea so it is Spain and not Gibraltar that is the law breaker.
Spain has been shamed, Gibraltar’s environment is better protected and Gibraltar moves on whilst Madrid shows that it is Franco’s heart that that provides the beat of Rajoy’s Government.
(Photograph: Gibraltar’s Environment and Health Minister, Dr John Cortes, and Culture – Sports Minister Steven Linares hand out water to queuing motorists waiting to enter Spain on Saturday)
(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on July 29 2013).