SPANISH fishermen ‘don’t care’ about British territorial waters, they have brazenly told the Olive Press.
They insist they are more interested in ‘feeding their families’ than the sovereignty of Gibraltar’s waters.
Sparking the likelihood of further incidents, two fishing bosses have backed the trawlers as they prepare to continue operating off the Rock.
It comes despite the threat of massive fines and jail sentences – in a potential headache for UK-Spain relations at a sensitive time.
The fishermen, from La Linea – one of Spain’s poorest towns – claim they are ‘struggling to provide for their families’ due to the ongoing border row off the British Overseas Territory.
It comes after multiple skirmishes between Spanish boats and Gibraltarian police this summer which have threatened to drag the UK and Spain into an international spat.
Spain’s Foreign Ministry made a diplomatic protest to the British Embassy in Madrid over the ‘serious incidents’, while the Junta called on Gibraltar to ‘stop harassing’ the fishermen.
It came after the boss of La Linea’s Fishing Association, Jonathan Sanchez, 33, faces court for allegedly fishing ‘illegally’ off the Rock.
“I was fishing one mile from Gibraltar and our government says those waters are Spanish,” he insisted to the Olive Press.
“As the nets I use are illegal in Gibraltar the police there are harassing us on a daily basis.”
Sanchez insisted he will not attend his court hearing, expected this month, if the Spanish Government does not provide him with a lawyer.
However, he did admit the Spanish authorities have told him not to fish again near Gibraltar to avoid ‘making the conflict worse’.
“The Guardia Civil have asked us not to fish there until the situation calms down.”
The problem, he insists, is fishing further into Algeciras bay means netting far fewer fish due to an ongoing algae plague.
“We have gone from making €1,800 a month to not even €1,000,” he claimed.
“I almost cannot afford the petrol so I will have no choice but to fish nearer Gibraltar to provide for my wife and kid. I have a mortgage on my house as well as the boat.
“It is our livelihood and I don’t care who owns the water,” Sanchez added.
His opinion is shared by Leoncio Fernandez, President of the Shipowners of Algeciras Bay, who added he ‘couldn’t care less’ about the sovereignty of the waters.
“We don’t care who owns the waters, I don’t care if they are British or Spanish, we just need to fish because we do it for a living,” he told the Olive Press.
Fernandez, who is a 77-year-old retired fisherman, added: “We don’t even fish near the Rock, but around a mile or more away.”
The Olive Press watched a Royal Gibraltar Police boat controversially entering La Linea’s Puerto Chico Port and sailing only a few metres from the Spaniards.
A fuming Fernandez said: “They can come here, do whatever they want, and no one says anything to them.
“Tensions have been going on for years, but we have always fished in the area and a solution needs to be agreed because it is our livelihood.”
In response to the claims, the Gibraltar government ruled it was ‘certain’ where its territorial waters began and it would enforce international laws if fishermen from Spain entered them.
“His Majesty’s Government has absolutely no doubts about the sovereignty of the waters around Gibraltar, so we are asking for unnecessary incidents in the water to be avoided as they create risk for the crews of the vessels.”
Illegal tuna fishing in territorial waters carries a hefty fine of up to £1000.
Recently, a Spanish fisherman landed a £600 fine and a 12-month ban.