I would like to thank Mr. John Barton, Natural Resource Director of the Falkland Islands, for having sent a note to FIS explaining his position and that of his government as to the issues I tried to raise in the article dated on 22 January, given his many duties in the Fisheries Department. It is also important to highlight that the exchange of experiences and opinions is helpful to bridge differences in positions and eventually find new alternatives or ways, which are perhaps different from what has been experienced so far.
The article which Barton refers to was written and signed by me personally, as an Argentinean citizen, among the 41 million inhabitants, who would like a peaceful solution to the conflict and with the firm conviction that sooner or later the islands will become part of the Argentinean territory again. Due to the fact that I’ve spent over 28 years involved in the fishing industry, working on complex projects in different regions of the world, I am convinced that there are possible solutions to everything. I understand then that it is possible to live in harmony and with respect even if there is an unresolved issue. Therefore, all the comments on this article aim to show another side of reality in a constructive manner, trying to prioritize the people over the fish.
I agree on Barton’s statements about the need for good fisheries management, safeguarding resources with a sustainable long-term policy, with particular emphasis on scientific studies. But I think his vision and opinions match those of a British official of an overseas territory in dispute, and not those of a scientist or a professional of a neutral entity. I understand that only the Government of the Falkland Islands currently grants permits on all the disputed area. This occurs not only with vessels operated by families and companies located on the Islands, but also with the additional sale of permits to third parties (having flags from other countries), aiming to generate money to meet the budgetary needs of the administration to which it belongs to. This, therefore, is a "business" and not an NGO because, excluding the fisheries activity from the Islands budget, the local government would be in deficit and in that case it should get help from the government in London. In principle, this would not be a viable option due to the budget cuts that the British Administration has implemented in various areas of its economy, as a result of the strong crisis that started in 2008.
What would happen if Argentina decided to allocate the same number of quotas to Argentinean vessels and/or to foreign fleets, exercising a political right and using the same statistics of populations and resources for the different species as that currently used by the Administration of the Islands as technical-scientific support to define unilaterally granted permits? A simple overlap in the management of fishery resources would lead all the activity in that area to a possible duplication of vessels and an obvious over-exploitation, which could reach dramatic levels. This would also put an end to the maintenance of the existing MSC certifications and would cause the stagnation in the granting of new ones, as it would pose a similar situation to that of the struggle for mackerel in the North Atlantic, which contributed for the MSC to suspend the certificates that were in force in 2012. I'm not saying that this would be a desirable solution, let alone beneficial, as it would create a chaotic situation in the fisheries sector that has been unprecedented worldwide and would complicate the situation completely in the short and the long term. I mention this only to hypothetically show what would happen if both parties acted in the same way.
If the wish is to truly protect the resources and to ensure good fisheries management, perhaps the most simple and logical path to follow would be to implement an indefinite suspension of all activity in the disputed area until an acceptable solution is found, or rather until the parties enter the discussion phase. Mr. Barton shows a deep desire to resume the bilateral talk at fisheries-scientific level with Argentina, citing the activities carried out by the SAFC in the past as an example. But there is a different reality and it is no other than the fact that the UK neither wants nor rejects a talk with Argentina concerning the Islands. Therefore, this would seem to be an unviable alternative right now, considering that Mr. Barton’s approach including dialogue and collaboration is not aligned with the policy of London. It is of note that in 2005 Barton himself participated in the decision, without consultation and unilaterally taken, to change the conditions for granting permits by his administration, which started being granted for a 25-year term under the scheme of Individual Transferable Quota (ITC). If memory serves me, at that time Argentina protested diplomatically once more, but there was no turning back from the Islands’ government, which triggered the cessation of all scientific-fishing dialogue and cooperation from Argentina in the SAFC to date.
Given this background, perhaps a possible alternative to consider might be that the parties (Argentina – United Kingdom) accept a "temporary" fisheries administration by a neutral body, such as the FAO, to give continuity to the activity and in this way ensure the population can enjoy the same income and lifestyle as the one they have today as a "humanitarian" factor. Any exploitation of the natural resources in an area disputed by different countries should not be subject to the scientific-business criteria or to the political needs of one of the parties. For decades the UN has taken action on the Falkland Islands issue, so perhaps the FAO could also be a respectable option to explore, outsourcing an activity that should not yet be assumed by either party. No country is willing to share the administration of their sovereign resources. What I raise here is not a joint administration, but just temporarily and until further notice, to leave it in the hands of a respected international organization; for the sole purpose of continuing scientific work on natural resources and of ensuring that the fishing business benefits reach the islanders’ hands. Whether the Islands are under British or Argentinean administration, the fact is that the fish stocks exploited at present cover more than 50% of local needs. This is a reality that has no flag and is beyond any claim or dispute. This is what may be guaranteed by both parties and it was the underlying topic of my article dated 22 January. All the time needed for a negotiated settlement of the conflict would be outside the fishing activity. The population would not see any changes to their current activities, which would eliminate the feeling of aggression that Mr. Barton mentioned in his article, and it would also separate the fishing activity from politics, which would nullify the criticism which is also expressed regarding my article.
Then I would like to clarify a couple of issues that Mr. John Barton highlights in his article, knowing that they exceed 69 per cent of political content, with the deepest desire not to upset him this time with my comments or my view on these topics:
As regards the consideration that the fact that Argentina sent protest letters to companies operating in the area constitutes aggression, I see another reality. I am not a politician or work for any government agency but it is obvious that the British Administration has unilaterally been exploiting the fishery resources for decades and to date Argentina has only complained diplomatically; so in my opinion, rather than aggression I would consider their claims as angry consent. Argentina would probably be able not only to protest diplomatically but also to send invoices to the foreign shipowners operating there for what they have fished so far, using the same amounts as the British Administration set at the time, or send fines for operating illegally in waters that have been claimed and considered as part of the Argentinean territory. This would not be an aggressive act performed by Argentina but the exercise of sovereignty rights in the same way as Britain has been doing to date by selling, charging and imposing fines. If Argentinean vessels fished in the conflict zone, would not it be expected that the British fisheries authorities and navy ships arrested these vessels and imposed fines on them? Hence also arises the option, in my article on 22 January, to provide double flag to the fishing vessels already registered on the Islands to exempt them from all potential economic and legal claims by Argentina, ensuring the continuity of their commercial activity freely. It is of note that since the end of the 1982 war to date, Argentina has stopped billing more than USD 1,500 million in license fees and taxes. If to this we add interests, this would be a very significant figure that increases year after year with the sale of new permits. (*)
FREE AND DEMOCRATIC SELF-DETERMINATION
When reference is made to self-determination and respect for the free will democratically expressed by people, I think it has not been taken into account the free will of millions of Argentinean people and their Constitution, which considers the Islands as part of its territory and not as an "overseas territory" with separate administration. Argentinean people experience the Falkland issue beyond party or sector discussions and if there is an issue that is common to all is the determination to peacefully regain what was deprived by military force. So, if someone decides to organize a referendum on a disputed territory and then intends to consider it is "democratic" the entire population should participate, which would include all the citizens from Argentina, obviously including the population of the Islands because they are part of the national territory. It should also be considered that among the nearly three thousand Islanders who participated in the so-called "referendum," there are only about 1,300 inhabitants who were born there and 1,000 soldiers temporarily living there, which calls into question the seriousness of it. According to the UN Decolonization Committee, the Falklands is a "Non-Self Governing Territory" administered by the United Kingdom, whose sovereignty is disputed, and that is why the so-called "free determination referendum" has not been monitored by the United Nations and therefore lacks all validity. Although the inhabitants have no right to settle the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom, we must recognize that, as the majority of the population comes from British descent, it would be logical and acceptable that they were able to keep their roots and their language --English, and that is why there arises the possibility, also mentioned in my article dated on 22 January, to provide citizens born on the Islands with a second passport. Recovering these territories should not imply that the population is deprived from their businesses, properties, fishing permits, traditions or identity. This was the reason why I also mentioned the need to survey the property registration and the granting of legitimate ownership rights to the population by Argentina, as a way to remove all doubt about it and to transmit the necessary trust that some media sources try to manipulate negatively. Argentina has a good example in the case of the Welsh community in Patagonia, who keeps the Welsh language in its schools, its flag and cultural ties to Wales (United Kingdom). I have lived in Wales for over 17 years and this nation feels proud to have a large community in Patagonia, who maintains its traditions and is warmly respected by all Argentinean people.
The comments expressed are not intended to raise problems but they seek to find practical solutions that can ensure business continuity and the beginning of a new stage in bilateral relations with particular emphasis on the population. That was how the UK and China managed at the time to settle the issues that had arisen as a result of the return of Hong Kong, without affecting business, property ownership, investments and also preventing the population from experiencing any dramatic changes in their lives. Maybe Argentina will also find itself in a similar situation and could have a political option, which at the time allowed the Chinese Communist Party to make a historic formula defining the reincorporation of Hong Kong with the slogan: "One country, two systems" (**).
The challenge of the possible reincorporation of both the Islands and their surrounding waters in the Southwest Atlantic, would require from Argentina a complete review of this activity in the future, as the legal framework created by the Federal Fisheries Act (No 24922), which regulates the activity at the national level and created the Federal Fisheries Council, does not consider the administration of this disputed vast area or exceptional measures in that Act.
Co-Founder & Publisher
Fish Info & Services Co.Ltd
* In the 2009/10 financial year, the government revenue was £42.4 million of which £14.5 million came from fishery licences and services and £10.5 million from taxes. During the same period the government expenditure was £47.6 million. The Falkland Islands have a GDP of US$ 105 million. The contributors to the GDP by the Fisheries was 52.5% in 2009)
** In 1984, Deng Xiaoping proposed to apply the principle to Hong Kong in the negotiation with the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher over the future of Hong Kong when the lease of the New Territories (including New Kowloon) of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom was to expire in 1997. The same principle was proposed in talks with Portugal about Macau. The principle is that, upon reunification, despite the practice of socialism in mainland China, both Hong Kong and Macau, which were colonies of the UK and Portugal respectively, can retain their established system under a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years after reunification. What will happen after 2047 (Hong Kong) and 2049 (Macau) has never been publicly stated.(Wikipedia)