Development & Aid, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

FISHERIES: Hake License Causes Storm in South Atlantic

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Mar 5 1996 (IPS) - After the warlike outbursts over halibut and squid in 1995, the black hake, ever more popular in Europe and Japan, is causing problems in the South Atlantic building up tension between Argentina and Britain.

The black hake, priced at around 4,500 dollars per tonne, is increasingly scarce in all the world’s fishing grounds except for the South Atlantic.

Thirty percent of the world’s supply is fished in an area which includes both Argentine waters and the area near the Falkland and Georgia islands, whose sovereignty is in dispute.

Argentine, Chilean, Canadian, Spanish, Norwegian and US fishing vessels are all working the area in order to satisfy the European and Japanese markets. Many fish outside the permitted season, beyond the reach of the international regulations.

However, the conflict between Argentina and Britain which has hit the headlines in the last few days is not based on protecting fish stocks, as the British would have the world believe, but on economic ends.

Fish is the main source of income for the island communities.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, where many foreign businesses contract vessels bearing the national flag, fish has replaced beef exports, generating an income of more than a billion dollars in 1995.

The Argentine government said Tuesday that it has been complaining to London since 1993 over the charges made for fishing licenses in the disputed waters around the Georgia Islands – 1,000 kilometres southeast of the Falklands.

The issue came to a head this week after British vessels charged a fishing boat captain 110,000 dollars for the right to fish there.

The Argentine boat, the Antartic III, had been rented by a US fishing concern, American Sea Foods.

The opposition Radical Civic Union warned that the unitateral British decision to charge license fees in the Georgias meant that “peace in the South Atlantic is of no priority (for the United Kingdom).”

Argentina’s President Carlos Menem also placed the issue in a wider framework, warning Tuesday that Argentina “will not give in” on the fishing front, “as we have not given in on our claim on the Falklands.”

The Falkland Island Fishing Director, John Barton, said he was surprised by the Argentine reaction. “In 1993 we established this measure to conserve resources and we have never had any problem,” he said.

And this is the truth. Britain established an economic exclusion zone around the Falkland Islands in 1987, arguing the need to preserve the species, and it did the same for the Georgias in 1993, much to Argentina’s distaste.

We do not consider Britain is authorised to charge anyone, “firstly because this is a zone affected by a sovereignty dispute, and secondly because it is under the jurisdiction of the Convention on the Conservation of Marine Living Antartic Resources (CAMELAR) which does not allow the sale of licenses,” argued Argentine vice-foreign minister Fernando Petrella.

Petrella also said the British decision to move its navy destroyer, HMS Northhumberland, from the Falklands to the Georgias was “absolutely inappropriate.”

Earlier this week, British daily ‘The Daily Mail’ reported the ship had been brought in to “arrest Argentine fishing pirates” and to patrol the coast.

With this manoeuvre, the British Foreign Office indirectly established its right to sovereignty over the Georgias, even though both nations had agreed to keep the issue under an ‘umbrella,’ separate from fishing or oil issues.

However, the British step in the Georgias forced the Argentine government to suspend negotiations aimed at reaching a fishing agreement by the end of the year and Menem’s planned official visit to London.

As a result, the black hake took over the role the halibut had in the North Atlantic last year, when a Canadian gunboat caught a Spanish fishing fleet just within its 200 miles of territorial waters.

The conflict between Canada and Spain sped up negotiations for an agreement on international control over fish in kilometre 201, which benefitted nations like Argentina, which saw the squid being born within its exclusive economic zone only to be captured outside by foreign vessels.

This time round the crisis is over hake, and the fuss has raised the ghost of the 1982 Falklands War, a campaign an Argentina free of military dictatorship assured it was not about to repeat.

 
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