Spanish fishermen ignored police orders to stop fishing illegally in British waters on at least 62 occasions in the past five months, the Gibraltar Government has confirmed.

Responding to a written parliamentary question from Opposition leader Peter Caruana, the government provided a list of the occasions on which the Royal Gibraltar Police contacted the captains of trawlers in Gibraltar territorial waters.

On each of those occasions the Spanish vessels were instructed to stop fishing and leave Gibraltar waters but “…refused to do so and continued fishing.

The list covers the period from late April, the time that the Gibraltar Government announced that it would no longer adhere to the 1999 fishing agreement, to late September.

On one particularly busy day for the RGP’s Marine Section in July, five different vessels ignored orders to stop their activities and leave the area.

In answer to a separate question in Parliament, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said three Spanish fishermen had been reported for process for using illegal nets.

One of those fishermen had already been served with a summons to appear before the Magistrates Court and the other two “are currently being judicially processed.

Mr Caruana also asked the Gibraltar Government to explain whether its decision on fishing in Gibraltar waters was based solely on environmental or conservation grounds.

The government responded that it had two key priorities.

The first was to restore the rule of law at sea, which it believed had been breached by the 1999 fishing agreement.

The second was the environmental sustainability “of any activity in Gibraltar waters.

Mr Caruana also tabled another written question relating to the recent tensions over Gibraltar waters.

His question stemmed from recent statements from the European Commission that it could not interfere in a territorial dispute such as the one over Gibraltar waters.

Mr Caruana asked whether the Gibraltar Government agreedthat the European Union’s decision to adopt positions in relation to Gibraltar waters – by designating an EU Spanish nature site, for example – amounted to interference, despite the Commission’s claims otherwise.

In its reply, the Gibraltar Government said that Spain should not have designated the site in British waters.

It added that the UK should have noticed the designation and challenged it earlier than it did. Lastly, it said the Commission had been at fault in allowing the Spanish move to go ahead.

“The EU should not have accepted the designation of part of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters as an area of a Spanish Site of Community Interest, the government said.

It also reflected on the recent decision by the European Court of Justice to reject on technical grounds an appeal lodged by Gibraltar against the Commission’s decision. One of the three judges who heard the case was a former Spanish government lawyer with family links to the ruling Popular Party.

“The recent decision of the ECJ is not credible for reasons as much related to the fact that the jurisdiction over BGTW is clear and contrary to the Spanish designation, as for the composition of the Chamber of the Court that dealt with it, the government said.

2009 Gibraltar Chronicle The Independent Daily – First Published 1801