Mark Viales

Illegal fishing in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters could be curbed if the Gibraltar Government pushed the UK to designate the area as a marine protected reserve.

A marine reserve would ensure legal protection against fishing or development around BGTW that would be recognised worldwide and pressure Spain to halt its incursions. 

The UK Government recently backed plans by Ascension Island to designate over 150,000 square miles of its waters as a fully protected no-take Marine Protected Area (MPA).

No-take marine reserves are MPAs with stronger protection that are very effective in restoring and preserving biodiversity as well as enhancing ecosystem resilience.

While conservationists have applauded the creation of the largest fully protected marine reserve in the Atlantic, Gibraltar could follow suit and add another legal tool to its armoury.

The Rock’s inclusion in this sphere of global influence would serve to benefit the local environment and provide another platform for Gibraltar to protest Spain’s actions.


Madrid’s supposed ‘victories’ during Brexit negotiations, from veto to ‘colony’ footnote, which was eventually rejected by the European Parliament, caused clamour amongst UK and Gibraltarian political circles.

The GSD lambasted Chief Minister Fabian Picardo after he claimed in his recent UN speech that Spain had ‘recognised the legal status of Gibraltarians’ through the Tax Treaty.

The Opposition said in a statement that Picardo’s defence of the Tax Treaty for Gibraltar and Spain ‘is based on spin and delusion’ and actually made sovereignty concessions to Madrid.

“The concessions are too fundamental to justify any questionable recognition by Spain of Gibraltarians,” A GSD statement said. “As usual Mr Picardo twists the truth to the point that it is not recognisable anymore.”

Picardo’s statement on the treaty, which was negotiated during the Brexit side plot with Memorandums of Understanding between the Rock and Spain, was also resolutely rejected by Spanish diplomats.

According to Spanish agency Europa Press the Tax Treaty ‘does not recognise Gibraltar as a people and states, explicitly, that neither the Agreement nor any action or measure taken in its application or as a result of it implies a modification of the respective legal positions of the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom with respect to the sovereignty and jurisdiction in relation to Gibraltar’.

However, should the Rock make the move to designate its waters as a fully protected no-take Marine Protected Area, it may provide a more concrete way to counter Spanish incursions.


Spain did not need an excuse to amplify its illegal incursions, but soon after the area fell under EU protection laws, ‘research vessels’ from Spain started to arrive.

Madrid’s unmoving position on its claim over the waters surrounding Gibraltar, including the Bay of Gibraltar which it names the ‘Bay of Algeciras’, continues to cause tension.

Despite the area being designated under British jurisdiction, in November 2016 the Spanish research vessel, Ángeles Alvariño, received warning flares from the Royal Navy's HMS Sabre, prompting a quick retreat.

The research vessel reportedly entered British waters while it was investigating the geological risks to the seabed but the Gibraltar Government felt the operation was politically motivated.

Indeed, Madrid claimed that the research vessel was harassed within ‘Spanish waters’ by a combined effort from the Royal Navy and Gibraltarian maritime enforcement.

The scientists aboard Ángeles Alvariño, unfortunately puppeteered by the powers in the Spanish capital, even mocked Gibraltar’s enforcement agencies with a twitter post.

“Thank you to the Royal Navy for keeping us company these last few days,” the official twitter account of the Group of Marine Geosciences of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography tweeted, which sprouted a flurry of anti-Gibraltar hate speech from Spanish nationals.


Gibraltar currently regulates commercial fishing, while methods involving the use of nets, raking of the seabed or artificial lights are strictly prohibited under EU law.

In July 2006 the European Commission through Decision 2006/613/EC accepted the UK’s proposal, made at the request of the Gibraltar Government, to list and adopt the Southern Waters of Gibraltar as a Site of Community Importance (SCI).

Following its approval as an SCI, the government declared the Southern Waters of Gibraltar as a dual Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protected Area (SPA) in March 2011.

The area has long been recognised as an important marine area due to its rich diversity in species and habitats. Sea cliffs and caves, reefs and sandy marine habitats all form part of the marine ecosystem found along the southern shores of Gibraltar.

Although the centralised EU law aimed at improving the environment is applaudable, Gibraltar’s voluntary role in its application was under the EU’s rule of thumb.

Therefore the majority of the plaudits belong to the EU rather than the Gibraltar Government. However, an independent environmental statement on protecting the waters around the Rock would certainly gain positive international headlines while also strengthening sovereignty in the area.


The Southern Waters of Gibraltar do not fall within the spectrum of the planned major reclamation project within the Coaling Island area for another luxury development, Victoria Keys.

Therefore, there are no regulations in that space to prevent the destruction of another marine ecosystem that lies on the periphery of the Rock’s coastline.

Certainly the government’s plan for the much-maligned development targeting rich expats to draw them into the Rock from surrounding Spanish towns amid Brexit fears has angered Gibraltarians.

Many are critical of excessive high-end overdevelopment taking place at the expense of locals, who feel that the Rock is suffering from a housing crisis, especially in relation to low income earners.

But a no-take zone would forbid extractive activity that removes or extracts any resource thus preventing the loss of marine life in the area. Extractive activities include fishing, hunting, logging, mining, and drilling.

It is likely, however, that the government will nonetheless push ahead with the development regardless of public criticism, and the inevitable negative impact on marine life.

Given that the UK declared a state of emergency on climate change in May, the Rock would surely be backed in designating ALL of Gibraltar’s waters as a no-take zone.

Making such a move could lead the Rock to set an example to the world and at the same time counter Spanish aggression while benefiting from ecological, political and social matters.