Falklands/Argentina: Fisheries Talks: 14-15 May 2018
Falkland Islands Government (FIG) officials were positive about the fisheries talks with Argentina, set up under the terms of the September 2016 communiqué to discuss the resumption of the mutual exchange of scientific data on fish and squid straddling stocks in the SW Atlantic. Further talks are scheduled for the autumn, possibly in November, with planning going ahead on the design of a joint research cruise programme. There is mutual concern about the number of vessels fishing on the high seas just outside the respective 200 mile zones. Argentina is in talks with the Spanish government about this (and possibly the creation of an international fisheries organisation for the region).
The UK/Argentina Joint Communiqué of September 2016 undertook "to remove all obstacles limiting the economic growth and sustainable development of the Falkland Islands, including in trade, fishing, shipping and hydrocarbons”. Follow-up talks in London on 19-20 December 2016 resulted in agreement on the importance of data exchange on fish and squid stocks in the SW Atlantic and agreement that further discussions would be held on the need to re-establish the joint South Atlantic Fisheries Commission (SAFC) as well as the possibility of starting the process towards a regional fisheries management agreement for the SW Atlantic.
Hopes that progress could be made before the start of the ilex season in 2017 were not met. But in March 2018, FIG released a statement indicating that FIG had been working with the UK Government to take the fisheries objectives forward with Argentina, indicating that, if all went well, talks would be held before the middle of the year. The UK Ambassador to Argentina, Mark Kent, indicated, after a meeting with the Argentine Foreign Minister, Jorge Faurie, that agreement had been reached on resuming the scientific sub-committee (which used to meet before the bi-annual meetings of the SAFC) – and Faurie told the Argentine Senate Foreign Affairs Committee that the meetings would be held in May.
Talks were duly held in Buenos Aires on 14-15 May with fisheries experts from FIG’s Department for Natural Resources strongly represented. Discussion focussed on the shared fish and squid resources but was also extended to the impact of fishing on seabirds and marine mammals and the need for international conservation. The talks were reportedly positive and constructive. Work will continue on the design of a joint research cruise ship programme and on getting the exchange of data underway before the next meeting scheduled for the autumn (the Argentine side has indicated that this would be in November).
A pressing issue is the need to conserve the breeding biomass of the ilex squid which migrates from Argentine to Falklands’ waters in large groups making it relatively easy to catch. The problem of overfishing is exacerbated by the presence of large international fishing fleets on the high seas just outside the Argentine 200 mile zone. Argentina has had talks with the Spanish authorities about the need to regulate high seas fishing (Spain has about 70 jiggers involved in this). Many of the jiggers involved tranship their catches in Uruguay. The Falkland Islands Fishing Companies Association (FIFCA) has expressed strong support for extending conservation controls in this respect.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Commission (SAFC) was set up by agreement between the UK and Argentine Governments under President Menem in 1990, with the first meetings held in 1991. The SAFC usually met twice a year (once in Buenos Aires, then in London), preceded by meetings of the Scientific Sub-Committee (SSC). An FIG representative, usually the Director of Fisheries (John Barton), was included in the UK delegation. Its main purpose was to facilitate the exchange of fisheries data, the co-ordination of joint research cruises and scientific analysis, and the provision of conservation advice to the respective governments. For 15 years or so, it worked as a relatively effective conservation organisation and could have developed into a regional fisheries management organisation for the SW Atlantic. But the Government of Argentina under President Kirchner withdrew co-operation in 2005.