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New Falklands Fishing Zone Certain to Increase Tensions

January 31, 1987

LONDON (AP) _ New British fishing restrictions around the Falklands that begin Sunday are sure to worsen the strained relations with Argentina, which claims the South Atlantic islands and tried to take them by force in 1982.

The Argentine government, which has called the new fishing zone ″politically and juridically unacceptable,″ said Friday that tensions would increase but it will avoid ″militarizing the crisis.″

Later Friday, the Defense Ministry said Argentine patrol boats had been sent to the edge of the disputed zone to show a military ″presence.″ It gave no details, but said the navy had been ordered to ″avoid incidents.″

″For now, surface units will be used and eventually we’ll study whether it will be necessary to reinforce them with air patrols,″ said Defense Secretary Alfredo Mosso.

Argentine forces invaded the archipelago, which it calls the Malvinas, in April 1982 and Britain reclaimed the colony after a 74-day war in which 255 British and 712 Argentine soldiers were killed.

Britain now fortifies the islands and steadfastly refuses to discuss Argentina’s claim of sovereignty.

On Oct. 29, Britain announced it would impose a 150 nautical mile ″Interim Conservation and Management Zone″ around the Falklands beginning Feb. 1. The zone roughly coincides with a previously established military ″protection″ zone meant to deter any hostile action by Argentina.

In announcing the fisheries zone, British Foreign Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe said the rapid increase in fishing in the area had ″aroused widespread concern.″

In 1986, some 600 trawlers came from the far corners of the world to catch southern blue whiting, hake and squid. Soviet vessels had outnumbered all others, British officials said.

Now, fishing licenses have been granted to only about 200 vessels out of 450 applications, according to the Foreign Office and the Falkland Islands Office in London.

The Foreign Office said vessels from 10 countries had been granted permits to fish the new zone through June 30. The 10 countries are Britain, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Poland, Chile, Spain, Italy, France and Greece.

Argentina has not applied for a permit and does not recognize British sovereignty over the area.

Britain imposed the zone after Argentina reached treaties with the Soviet Union and Bulgaria, giving them limited rights to fish in all Argentine territorial waters.

British officials said the Soviet Union and Bulgaria did not seek licenses, and that the Soviets said they would not challenge the conservation zone limits.

Alistair Cameron, head of the Falkland Islands office, estimated the newly licensed trawlers paid between the equivalent of $62,000 and $77,000 each. Fees are based on a ship’s capacity.

The Foreign Office said the fees will total close to $11 million this year. The annual budget of the Falklands local government is about $8.5 million, and about $6.2 million is earmarked to enforce and manage the zone, Cameron said.

Ironically, the 1,919 Falklanders don’t fish in their own waters, and most of the islanders raise sheep to make a living.

Britain has also declared it is entitled to a fisheries limit of 200 nautical miles around the Falklands, but said it will not patrol beyond 150 miles.

″We are also confirming our rights to jurisdiction over the continental shelf up to the limits prescribed by the rules of international law,″ Howe said in October. He gave no details, but his statement appeared to refer to mineral or oil rights.

Argentina also claims a 200-mile economic exclusion zone off its coast, which is about 220 nautical miles from the Falklands.

Britain said it had been trying for years to find an international solution to the problem of overfishing around the Falklands, but Argentina ″undermined the multilateral approach.″

Argentina, with wide international backing, has attempted to engage Britain in Falklands sovereignty talks. Britain says it wants to improve relations with Argentina, but Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher says the issue of sovereignty is not negotiable.

Asked if Britain feared any problems in imposing the zone, Christopher Meyer, head of the Foreign Office press department, said this week, ″We hope it will go into effect without any difficulty at all. It is in the interests of everyone.″

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