A reform of an Argentine law that would force many foreign companies to drop the fishing permits granted to them by the British-controlled Falklands/Malvinas Islands will be passed next April, Congressional sources in Buenos Aires told MercoPress.
"Let there be no doubt, come April we will have a new fishing law that, among other issues, will prevent companies from having fishing licenses from more than one nation and will strongly rise fines for illegal fishers," one of the sources said on condition of anonymity. The bill was passed by the Senate but the Lower House last week introduced some changes and hence it must now go back to the Senate, which will have the final say. Although the bill makes no mention of nationalities or of Malvinas, it would mainly affect many Spanish companies operating in the South Atlantic which have both fishing permits from the Argentine government, and from Malvinas. "The Foreign Ministry asked legislators not to mention Malvinas to avoid further problems with Britain," the source said. In 1982 Argentina and Britain went to war over the Islands that the British call Falklands. The Argentine Congress started considering the new fishing bill after Malvinas authorities last July extended fishing permits to 25 years, thus putting an end to one-year licences. Argentina challenged that decision at the United Nations. The new bill would force companies to have a license from only one nation. One of the sources said: "Of the 15 ships that one of the companies has, 11 are registered in Argentina and four in Malvinas. And that ratio applies to other firms." Spanish firms that currently have permits from both the Argentine and Malvinas governments would have to choose between continuing to catch shrimp, hake and squid in Argentine waters, or Loligo and Illex squid around Malvinas. Spanish companies have by far the largest fishing interests in the South Atlantic. Among them are Pescapuerta, Armadora Pereira, Pescanova, Freiremar and Chymar. Silvia Giusti, the head of the Senate's Agriculture, Cattle and Fishing Committee, said that Spanish firms will chose to fish under Argentine licence only. "Many of the companies have announced that publicly," she said after meeting this month in Buenos Aires with the head of Spain's General Secretariat of Maritime Fisheries Juan Martín Fragueiro and Fisheries Resources Director General Fernando Curcio, Giusti belongs to the Victory Front led by President Néstor Kirchner and which controls both houses of Congress. The bill envisages hiking fines from a current maximum of 30,000 pesos (about 10,000 dollars) to a minimum of five million pesos (about 1.64 million dollars) and a maximum of 10 million pesos (3.3 million dollars). To prevent companies from creating fictitious third firms that could be registered in Malvinas, the bill would force companies to present sworn statements saying that they have no legal or economic links with firms operating in Argentina's Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ.) The EEZ is the sector comprised between the territorial sea to a distance of 200 nautical miles. The territorial sea extends from the shoreline to a distance of 24 nautical miles. In the wording proposed by the Senate the bill also said that companies should swear to have "no link of whatever kind" with firms operating in Argentina's EEZ. But the Lower House deleted that reference as it considered it "too broad and hence possibly leading to a lack of legal security," once of the sources said. The Lower House also dropped the mention to the EEZ and replaced it by the phrase "waters under jurisdiction of the Argentine Republic." "This is a reference to the territorial sea and is unnecessary as illegal fishers don't fish in Argentina's territorial waters but in the EEZ. However, the Senate will not object to the Lower House's phrasing because it is correct from the legal point of view," the source said. The Lower House did not modify the tougher fining system proposed by the Senate, but it introduced other changes, such as proposing that the law should come in force 360 working days after its publication in the Official Gazette instead of the 180 days proposed by the Senate. Senator Giusti told MercoPress that the committee in March will start considering the modifications introduced by the deputies. "I will do my best so that companies registered in Argentina ÃÂ¢€" and particularly a lot of Spanish firms registered in Chubut ÃÂ¢€" can safeguard their investments," she said. "We want to protect their activity and the source of jobs they mean for Chubut." "However, we will carefully consider the modifications introduced by the Lower House. For me, the best wording was the one that was proposed by the Senate. For instance, the 360-day term for the law to come in force is excessive." A Congressional source said that initially Argentina's Fishing Under-Secretary Gerardo Nieto was happy with the 180-day term proposed by the Senate. "Perhaps the extension to 360 days could respond to some request from the national government. I don't know whether Nieto has not been pressured," the source said. (MercoPress- Guillermo Háskel)