It’s Not Too Late For Our Marine Environment
By Mario Ramos, President of the Gibraltar Federation of Sea Anglers
Throughout the Tuna Fishing Season there has been the annual debate about the size of the quota and the way it is managed, the sale of catches and the lack of enforcement by the pertinent authorities in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW). There has been a focus on the continuing incursions by Spanish Commercial Fishing Boats, hailing from La Linea, by local commentators and political parties. These debates and all this commentary show that these issues grab the attention of the public. But, would we be having these if the Gibraltar Federation of Sea Anglers (GFSA) had not led a successful Angling for Change Campaign? It seems as if these commentators and political parties are happy to ignore how we arrived at the current regulatory framework for the marine environment. They do not give GFSA, the governing body for angling in Gibraltar, the credit they deserve for campaigning to have regulations introduced that manage and protect the marine environment. GFSA fought for these strenuously and vigorously, for numerous years to persuade successive Governments to introduce them and now they are law, they are used to criticise without providing any insight or vision into how they can be improved or be better implemented.
Since their introduction there has been positive and very welcome changes to the way that the marine environment is being managed. It is not all the ‘disaster’ that is portrayed in the media. One positive outcome is that people’s awareness for the need to protect and manage the marine environment is something that no politician or political party can ignore ever again and, with upcoming election on October 17th, GFSA is looking forward to see how each of the parties or independents standing are going to address this policy area.
Let us celebrate some notable successes achieved since the introduction of the regulations. The shoreline around the coast of Gibraltar is no longer appropriated by hordes of anglers coming from across the border; there is no free for all on the fishing of Blue Fin Tuna, an endangered species that needs protecting; the introduction of a regulatory regime supported by licenses is protecting the marine environment and how it can be used; the activities of the ‘furtivo’ unlicensed commercial fishermen coming into BGTW have been almost totally eradicated and the Spanish Dive clubs can no longer come into Gibraltar and use BGTW as a show case dive in the Costa del Sol without being properly licensed to do so.
Are there further improvements that need to be made? Yes, and GFSA is in no doubt that these will need addressing by any new administration that is elected on 17th October. The biggest problem is the ‘comerciales’ that continue to come into BGTW to fish. They are approached, harassed, challenged, moved on and reported for process with regularity but enforcement is not robust or consistent enough because they keep coming back. This game of ‘cat and mouse’ must stop.
GFSA does not support and wants to prevent the use of ‘long lines’ for fishing, a commercial method that is permitted under the regulations, because of the devastating impact that it has on the marine eco-system in BGTW. It is easy to criticise the use of nets by Spanish ‘comerciales’ and the impact they have on marine life, yet no one is prepared to tackle the use of ‘long lines’ in Gibraltar and the dangers that they pose to marine life. If ‘long lining’ or indeed any other type of commercial activity is to continue in Gibraltar, then it needs to be a better managed. The Government cannot continue to allow any one in Gibraltar to apply for and be granted licenses for long lining ‘free of charge’ and allow them to fish commercially without proper controls.
And they cannot continue to disregard the anecdotal evidence that exists that local ‘pulperos’ are decimating the stocks of octopus, cuttlefish and other cephalopods and that there is no longer an abundance of sea bass and other marine species is BGTW. We need to shine the spotlight on activities like this because the debate about diminishing fish stocks in Gibraltar seems to be blamed entirely on the Spanish ‘comerciales’. However, the type of nets they use do not target the reef fish that all Sport Anglers in Gibraltar aspire to catch.
The debate around Tuna, this season, shows the conflicts of interest that surrounds ‘commercial’ interests versus a ‘sporting activity’. In a recent opinion piece published in a local newspaper it was argued that because anglers had ‘invested’ in expensive gear it was reasonable that they sell the tuna to recoup that ‘investment’. If you are a ‘sport’ angler, you buy equipment to take part in a sporting activity. You are not ‘investing’. Investment suggests that your intention is to take part in a ‘commercial’ activity. It is this ‘grey’ area that anglers are exploiting that needs addressing.
It’s time to define the difference between ‘commercial’ Cottage Industry Fishing and Sport Fishing in Gibraltar. Without doing so the marine eco-system in BGTW will continue to decline. The regulations as they are today permit licensed anglers, who apply for and are granted long lining class, to catch fish and then they sell them on to local restaurants and other establishments without any controls. This activity creates dangerous health and safety concerns that need tackling. There is no oversight over the quality of fish caught locally and sold on, unlike in Spain and other EU countries where a fish seller has to provide you with the provenance of that fish (certification of who, where, when and how it was caught and where it was landed) if you request it.
This is a poor management environment that is exploited by individuals who want to take advantage of it to sell fish for personal gain, even though it a ‘black market’ activity. Most sellers do not operate as a normal business. They do not possess a business license, do not declare their income for tax purposes and yet they want the community to sympathise with them whilst they misinform using the cloak of ‘the Spanish are raping our seas’ to obfuscate their own activity.
Looking after the marine environment is not just about fishing but managing it. For example, raw sewage is pumped out into the sea at Europa Point. Daily tons of excrement and human waste containing sanitary towels, baby’s nappies, wet wipes and many other pollutants go out into the sea. We continue to do this because successive governments have failed to build the promised sewage treatment plant that can pump treated waste into the sea. Yet this Government sees fit to promote its ‘environmental’ credentials when they are failing to address this insanity. They invest millions of pounds in other more politically expedient projects like housing, schools and so on that create even more waste and sewage. And yes, it is much needed investment but what about the less visible but very urgent infrastructure projects that are promised?
Governments for the last 24 years have failed us. The GSD promised a sewage plant, they governed for 16 years, nothing happened, the GSLP/Liberal Alliance have governed for 8 years promised the same, still no treatment plant. Next time you order a sea bass at a local restaurant that boasts that it has been caught locally, ask the restaurateur where it has been caught. Most are fished in the vicinity of Europa Point so ask yourself what this fish has been feeding on before you eat it.
GFSA is putting a spotlight on the issues that are of greatest concern now that it is in an election year to give politicians pointers where they need to focus their attention next to improve the protection of the marine eco-system in Gibraltar. This Government took the first step by introducing the regulations, but they need improving. They are not robust enough and contain too many loopholes that are being exploited. They need strengthening and GFSA is asking all political parties to state what their policies are and, if they make commitments, to see them through once elected.
One other major concern that underpins the management and protection of the marine environment in BGTW, is enforcement. It is a topic that all NGOs on the Government’s Fishing Working Group are constantly pressing it on and takes up the greatest amount of time on the agenda at every meeting. The pertinent ‘enforcement’ agencies do not cooperate with each other enough. To correct this the next Government must make these agencies draw up and work under the guidance of a written operational plan, so that there is consistency in the way that, for example, incursions into BGTW are tackled. GFSA is, also, demanding that a new administration commits to better resource the Environmental Enforcement Team (EFT), both in respect of personnel and assets. Let’s get serious with enforcement in BGTW, as the lead enforcement team, the EFT needs faster craft so that they can get to incidents quicker and more personnel to provide 24/7 cover.
Is everything going to be solved overnight? Are incursions going to be stopped? Is the marine environment going to recover quickly? The answer to these questions is ‘No’, but it is possible is to create greater deterrence by acting more robustly in the way that the regulations are enforced and by tackling their obvious and visible weaknesses so that as a community, we can see that there are palpable and visible improvements. It is not too late for our marine environment.