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The Turbot War

UK and Ireland support Canada

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

Even as the formal EU position condemned Canada for piracy on the high seas, a feverish zest for Canada swept through British and Irish fishing communities. The British press rejoiced in the defeat of the `Spanish armada’. Canada fervour reached dizzy heights when a Cornish fishing boat from Newlyn was mistakenly arrested by French customs. It was flying the Canadian flag, and the local authorities assumed that it was Canadian, landing fish illegally in France. Overnight Canadian flags became a craze all over the UK.Even the then British Prime Minister, John Major, risking a diplomatic breach with Spain and a clash with the European Commission, spoke out in favour of Canada, and opposed any trade sanctions against it. Spain had earlier demanded that sanctions be applied against Canada for its unilateral action in arresting the Spanish vessel, Estai.Behind the support to Canada lay a long history of Hispano-Britannic fish disputes-the most recent one being the so-called tuna war in 1994. UK fishers had little faith in the enforcement of fishery regulations in Spanish ports, where they claimed, undersized fish and those beyond quota limits were landed with impunity.They also felt that British fishing interests were being traded against other concessions, for example, in agriculture. They were of the opinion that if the UK declared its own 200-mile exclusive fishing zone, nearly 80 per cent of the EU’s fish stocks would belong to the UK. The `Save British Fish Campaign’ wanted the UK to leave the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)and thereby gain exclusive access to these fish stocks. With Spain’s entry into the EU in 1986, the European fishing capacity is said to have swelled by 75 per cent as Spain’s fishing fleet was the largest in Europe with 17,000 vessels and 92,000 persons sailing them. Fishers from UK were sore that the size of Spain’s fishing fleet forced other European nations to cut theirs to match the resources available. They felt that Spain should have been asked to reduce its own fleet size before it was allowed to enter the CFP. British fishers also felt threatened by the size of the Spanish fishing fleet, being fully aware that it had the capacity to catch four times the quota then allocated to it within EU waters, even as Spain was losing access to its traditional distant-water grounds.UK and Irish fishers were further worried that as one of the world’s largest consumers of fish-1.9 million tonnes annually- the Spanish had a reputation for eating small, immature fish. Many British and Irish fishers harboured a deep suspicion of Spanish fishing companies, regarding them as disrespectful of the law. They, therefore, strongly identified with the Canadian charges against the Spanish vessel, Estai. Such feelings were particularly strong among the fishers of Ireland, where, by end 1994, 24 of the 39 boats detained in Irish waters were Spanish or UK-registered (flags-of-convenience)Spanish boats.In addition, in late 1994, Spanish vessels had been granted limited access to the waters of the so-called `Irish box’, an area of protected waters around Ireland, causing an uproar in UK and Ireland. UK fishers were also concerned that, over the next eight years, Spain would build a track record of fishing stocks to which they were earlier denied access, thus allowing them to gain `traditional rights’ thereafter. For all these reasons UK and Irish fishers strongly supported the Canadian action, earning the ire of the Spanish in the process.

Palabras claves

pesca, conflicto entre estados

, Europa, Reino Unido, España, Canadá, Irlanda


Within the EU there was no unanimity on the issue of the `turbot war’ with UK and Ireland openly supporting the Canadian cause. Behind this support lay a history of tension with Spanish fishing fleets, and a resentment of the Common Fishery Policy of the EU, with UK and Irish fishers feeling that the CFP went contrary to their interests. To reduce such tension there appears to be an urgent need to find a common ground for fishers from Spain and other EU nations to sit down and talk. Also important is to keep in mind the interdependence between UK and Spain. Without Spanish markets many British fishing operations would simply not be viable. While British fishers need Spanish markets, Spanish fishers need access to `British’ fishing grounds. The path of dialogue rather than of conflict appears most appropriate.


Artículos y dossiers

O'RIORDAN,Brian, Flying the Canadian Flag in. Samudra Report, 1995/04, 12

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