Gibraltar and Spanish town agree on cross-border group to help sort out fishing dispute
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo and Spanish town La Linea Mayor Gemma Araujo agreed the creation of a cross-border joint working group that will be examining all aspects of the fishing dispute with Spain.
The meeting in Gibraltar was attended by the La Linea fishermen representatives who also subscribed the terms of the agreement.
At a packed press conference in Convent Place (Gib Government House) Tuesday night, it also emerged that a commission of independent experts will be set up to advice and report to the Gibraltar Government within a period of 60 days with its findings.
The commission is expected to initiate its work immediately as soon as the experts are appointed. There will be an equal number of representatives from both sides of the frontier although their names are not yet in the public domain.
The La Linea fishermen have in the meantime agreed not to carry out any defiance or breach of the laws of Gibraltar “currently in force.”
Both sides have also vowed to achieve greater understanding of each other’s positions and “to seek to identify situations that might enable all parties’ objectives to be met.”
The Algeciras Union of Fishermen did not attend the meeting, although an open invitation has been made to them.
Speaking to the Gibraltar Chronicle, Mr Picardo expressed confidence that they had “let down those who would like to see us once again, fail in our attempts to reach understanding with the Spanish fishermen, in a way that is designed to deliver dialogue, cooperation and friendship.”
He said that they had managed to bridge “that hair’s breadth” that there was between agreement and disagreement to go forward to structure a future in relations between Gibraltar and La Linea and hopefully also Algeciras, “which will be positive and not negative as there has been serious attempts to ensure was the case negatively in the past week.”
Asked whether this agreement would secure peace in the bay, Mr Picardo said that this agreement was not designed to keep the peace, but to create “an opportunity for understanding and for the relationship to be positive.”
“Keeping the peace is a consequence of that, it is not an aim,” he declared.
He reiterated the position of the Gibraltar Government that the law of Gibraltar “must be upheld” and that breaches of the law “cannot be condoned or tolerated at any distance from the shore.”
Mr Picardo noted that there is not a complete ban on fishing in Gibraltar waters and that the Spanish vessels could continue to do so as long as they used lawful fishing methods which exclude all forms of nets.
As regards the work of the commission of experts, Mr Picardo stated that they will be reporting their conclusions to the Gibraltar Government “which will then have to determine what it does with those conclusions.”
He said that the Government has already started a process of consultation to update the 1991 Nature Protection Act, with local fishermen and submariners, and that now he would seek the views of the La Linea and Algeciras fishermen “in respect of some of the points of the Act.”
Mr Picardo said the Act is a 20 year law which has to be kept under constant revision.
The Chief Minister also highlighted the mediation carried out by the Mayor of La Linea Gemma Araujo and the “positive atmosphere” that had underlined their meeting.
Mrs. Araujo stressed the importance of “dialogue and consensus” and the efforts to identify common ground to ensure “coexistence between Gibraltar and La Linea.”
She praised the good disposition of all sides to “re-channel the situation away from the media ‘storm’” for a constructive purpose.