Argentina’s next actions may impact fisheries beyond Falklands
It is clear and nobody doubts that Argentina has taken a more robust and active attitude with respect to its sovereignty claims over the Falkland Islands and the adjacent South Atlantic zone, comprising Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, which continue under the FIFD's (Falkland Islands Fisheries Department) exclusive management.
Recently, an Argentine commercial featuring an athlete who trained on the Islands has drawn international media’s attention and besides generating some complaints from various sports organizations in the UK, in just a few days led to the broadcast of another commercial in response to the former. At a first glance it appears to be a typical dispute between rival football fans, however, it has a significant background and for the first time, an unresolved conflict that generated a war exactly 30 years ago, has been openly shown.
In recent months, Argentina has been gathering further support from neighbouring countries to take practical measures against maritime and logistic activities that affect the economy, tourism and oil exploration in the area of the Falklands. Obviously, there's a follow-up of companies, partners, shareholders, directors, investors, banks and institutions directly or indirectly involved in the activities that Argentina and its partners intend to undermine and destabilize to force the British government to sit down and talk as the various UN resolutions have called for.
The Falklands government with the support from the British Government, on the other hand, reported that a referendum will be called in the first half of 2013 for the inhabitants of the Islands to define their political status, which will certainly be to continue as part of the UK. And campaigns have been initiated in some journalistic media to gather support so that the British Parliament deals with some economic issues in response to measures taken by Argentina.
The fact is that so far the Argentine government has taken no action with respect to fisheries, but there are strong rumours in Buenos Aires on certain measures, the implementation of which are being studied. One of them might be granting fishing licenses in the conflict zone to fishing vessels from third countries. This measure will involve an overlap with what the FIFD has been doing and which represents the main source of income that the Government of the Falklands has received for 30 years.
But there are countries that support Argentina's position at the UN, as the case of Russia and China, and the possible entry of fishing vessels with those flags would mean a full turn to the situation the Islanders and their current partners have enjoyed. Needless to say that these countries are privileged members in the UN, and therefore, if they perform fishing activities in the area with Argentine permit, it would be very interesting to see what the reaction of the United Kingdom would be.
Sending Royal Navy vessels to the area to stop a helpless Russian or Chinese flagged fishing vessel would turn the UK into an aggressor and it would also force the British diplomacy not only to talk with Argentina but with other politically relevant countries. These alternatives would provide a major shift in the fishing and political situation beyond the Falklands, since resources and important areas are at stake.
Some striking and contradictory issues between politics and business are the ships belonging to countries that politically support Argentina's position but that purchase their fishing licenses from FIFD, as is the case of Spain, Chile and others.
This could eventually open the door for Argentina at some point to claim ship owners should pay a fee for the captured volumes in the latest years, since they have already paid in full to the FIFD and nothing has been paid to Argentina. Since we are talking about a very large amount of money, given permits, inspection services and transhipment fees that have been paid amount to 1,5 billion dollars from the 80's to date, any Argentine claim could cause serious economic and legal problems to important groups operating under the scheme of joint ventures, or simply buying permits in the area, like Grupo Pescanova (Belnova, Austral Fisheries and Pesca Chile), Grupo Nores (Nores Marine and Byron Fishing), Group Copemar , Varepi, Pesquera Guromar, Grupo Regal and others.
All in all, this is a very special international situation that may affect the economy of the Falklands and the future of some companies and species such as Illex squid, loligo fish and Patagonian toothfish (Chilean sea bass). This will surely produce political decisions of both parties that will affect fisheries throughout the region and the participation of groups like COLTO or CCAMLR, among others.