Outlaw fleet scoops squid from Argentine waters

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 25, 2013 at 4:07 am •  Published: March 24, 2013
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"It's very important to us that Argentina should engage with us in a dialogue, as they're obliged to do under the law of the sea, to ensure that fish stocks are conserved properly," Haywood said.

Inside the fisheries office in the islands' capital of Port Stanley, a computer monitor shows the location of each boat licensed to fish in Falklands waters. Similar GPS devices installed in Argentina's licensed fleet show their locations in an office in Buenos Aires. But the lack of cooperation has left both nations relatively blind and powerless to control the outlaw fleet.

"It's not the scientists who are behaving like politicians, but I think politicians themselves are pushing on their scientists not to communicate with us, easy as that. It's a very unfortunate situation," said Alexander Arkhipkin, a government fisheries scientist in Port Stanley.

Each government has licensed about 100 boats a year to go after Ilex squid, which spawn off the coast of Uruguay each year.

Squid licenses have provided about half the Falklands government's revenues over the years, ever since it showed it meant business by chasing an unlicensed Vietnamese shrimper all the way to South African waters, and firing into its hull along the way.

In Argentina, however, most fishermen can't compete against the outlaws, said Guillermo de los Santos, the chamber president of Argentina's squid fishing fleet. He said more than 20 fishing businesses based in the port city of Mar del Plata alone have had to declare bankruptcy since 2005, when the unregulated international fleet, much of it from China, swelled.

"China has the world's largest fleet, and Argentina hardly has a single boat in its own waters," Schvartzman said.

Farinon said that he participated in many high-seas captures of boats that tried to escape from territorial waters when he was a coast guard captain from 1987 to 2007. Such captures are less frequent lately, he acknowledged, although he said he didn't have any numbers.

More guns also could help. But Argentina's coast guard only challenges boats that it can prove were fishing in territorial waters, and that's not easy, Farinon said. "We're often talking about a matter of meters. You have to have a plane right on top of them, and a boat alongside, or else you could be mistaken that they crossed the border," he said.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides countries with tools that Argentina could use right now to combat overfishing.

One is the "hot pursuit" article, which enables enforcers to pursue boats fishing illegally within their territory into international waters. Another is the "straddling species" clause, which allows governments to protect wandering species like the ilex squid, by applying the same rules on both sides of their maritime border. Countries that jointly manage their seas often grant each other reciprocal permission to arrest rule breakers, and any two countries can make bilateral agreements to regulate their fleets as they see fit, Greenpeace attorney Daniel Simons said.

The territorial dispute makes that impossible here.

"Argentina should enforce the same rules and impose its sovereignty beyond the 200-mile limit," said de los Santos of the fishing chamber. "But it would have to have a fleet 10 times bigger."

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APTN's Paul Byrne reported from the Falkland Islands.