An Argentine foundation dedicated to sustainable fishing has warned that a "serious diplomatic conflict" is brewing between Argentina and the United Kingdom over illegal fishing in the waters near the disputed Malvinas (Falkland) Islands.
The FULASP Latin American Foundation for Fisheries Sustainability (Fundación Latinoamericana de Sustentabilidad Pesquera) has prepared a formal complaint highlighting the increasing numbers of illegal fishing vessels that are operating under the closed season off the South Georgia Islands with unlawful British licenses.
It warns that the boats are acting outside the official framework that governs activity in the area close to the Malvinas, which were the subject of a short war between Argentina and the United Kingdom in 1982.
In their complaint, FULASP notes “the urgent need to demand that the British government immediately stop the indiscriminate granting of fishing permits in the exclusion zone.”
It explains that fishing activity in the area has been regulated since 1982 by the CCMALR Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and that the vessels operate outside the framework established by the multilateral organisation made up of 26 member countries, including Argentina and the United Kingdom.
As a result of the situation, FULASP has began negotiations with CCAMLR authorities to submit a request based on the results of a report carried out by combining public and private data, both its own and third parties' access to available satellite information, and official and journalistic records.
According to them, the investigation has obtained evidence “that supports that the reported illegal act not only undermines Argentina’s conservation efforts, but also has a devastating impact on its economy and coastal communities."
Along these lines, the foundation indicates that in the waters surrounding the disputed archipelago almost half of what is caught in all of Argentina is being extracted illegally by vessels.
“The Malvinas Islands granted 106 squid licences and 16 loligo licences. Currently there are more than 120 boats fishing in the archipelago with licences granted by the British government,” FULASP President Raúl Cereseto told Perfil in an interview.
Cereseto revealed that he had held a meeting with the fishing authorities on the islands, during which he was able to “confirm in person that the United Kingdom had established a true illegal extraction system in the Malvinas Islands annually granting almost 100 fishing licences and quotas known as ITQB (Individual Transferable Quota) with a validity period of one year."
The expert said the sovereignty issue affected the awarding of licences.
The United Kingdom “sell permits by the tonne through a quota system and are millionaires. They are handing out licences in the archipelago where we have a sovereignty conflict. While we have that conflict, they licence and sell the resource. They are fishing a lot and they are taking a lot of resources,” claimed the president of FULASP.
Fishing represents approximately 60 percent of the Malvinas’ income, which makes it its most significant economic activity, he added.
“The income obtained places the archipelago among the top 10 GDP per capita on the planet, well above the indicator for the inhabitants of the United Kingdom,” reads the complaint prepared by FULASP, to which Perfil gained access.
Cereseto said: “It is very striking that the islands do not have any type of processing on land, so it is clear that their activity is limited only to fishing and selling."
Hundreds of vessels flying the Taiwanese, Korean and, especially, Spanish flags are authorised to capture various marine species. “Seventy percent of everything caught goes to Spain, while 20 percent is unloaded on island territory and the remaining 10% travels to other latitudes percent,” Cereseto explained.
According to the report’s data, during the first part of this year’s fishing season, Spanish vessels caught 53,500 tonnes of squid in the area, which would the most productive volume in the last two decades. In all of 2022, the Spanish fishing fleet recorded a volume of 101,000 tonnes of the same species.
Part of the complaint refers to the fleets that exploit the region, and, according to FULASP, many of them were sanctioned. “The list of licensed ships is not publicly accessible,” the text adds.
In addition to this, the FULASP text denounces that “many of the vessels have been sanctioned by other countries and international organisations for overfishing" and other alleged crimes.
Cereseto stated that “many vessels have been detected which, besides operating in the area controlled by the United Kingdom, also do so in an undeclared and unregulated manner in international waters, on the edge of mile 200,” noting that “this shows that licensed vessels are engaging in illegal fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of our country”.
“On the Malvinas they do have close control over the working conditions of the fishing vessels, but not over the situation at mile 200. When they go to mile 200 they do what they want, but when they go to the Malvinas Islands they have a lot of restrictions. However, they are granting licences to the boats that sooner or later fish without control at mile 200,” added the fishing businessman.
Cereseto alleged that the islands' authorities “manage” operations at mile 200 by granting licences to ships that extract resources in that area.
“We have seen this nocturnal activity at mile 200 on more than one occasion. Many of those boats, mainly flying the Chinese flag, come, do a season off Argentina and fish everything they can from our EEZ. Then they go, they are granted a licence in the Malvinas Islands, they fish as much as they can there and leave,” he claimed.
“First they do a season in international waters and when there is nothing left to fish, they go to the archipelago to wait for the season in the Malvinas Islands," added the expert.
Cereseto also highlighted is the lack of communication between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the legal framework for fishing exploitation.
“There is a sustainability commission, for the conservation of the resource, which we do not know whether it is being fulfilled. At some point we even had information being exchanged between the Islands and Argentina, but now we are at a point where we don’t even talk through each other’s governments,“ he said.
“They establish their own policies, we have ours and since we don’t talk to each other, no-one knows what the other’s limit is. So we could be setting a certain limit and they could set a double limit, and we could be self-flagellating in terms of the opportunity to fish more, for example."
The organisation's complaint states that “the environmental, economic and social impacts of this unregulated activity are serious, and affect the future of fishing in the region, as well as the balance of the entire ecosystem of the South-Western Atlantic, directly and indirectly affecting dozens of species of fish, molluscs, birds and marine mammals."
“In June 2022, the Argentine Government, via its Foreign Ministry, categorically rejected these unilateral measures bilaterally and multilaterally, considering them a serious breach of the rules of the Antarctic Treaty System. However, the United Kingdom has ignored it and the situation has only worsened,” the text reads.
The complaint will be made effective in the coming days before the Foreign Ministry, said Cereseto. He admitted that it would be “very difficult for us to succeed,” he acknowledged that “it does not mean that we have to stop fighting."
"We have to insist, there are tools that we can work on, such as solving the removal of boats from mile 200, asking the Malvinas Islands to make their fishing management transparent, to establish conditions for whoever grants licences, for us to become involved or that they can be subjected to a more transparent analysis,” he said.
“The sovereign issue is not going to be resolved in the short term, but fishing continues to occur. If we don’t talk on the issue of sovereignty, why not talk about fishing issues at least to agree on what we want to do in the meantime?” asked Cereseto.