The Falklands Squid War is an ongoing dispute over the rights to catch squid in the waters of the South Atlantic. The issues revolve around ilex squid – a short-lived species which migrates past the Falkland Islands as part of its life cycle. Catching this species makes up a large proportion of the Falkland Island’s fishing industry, and economy overall, but Argentina have recently began increasing their catches of this species – a move which is being viewed as an attempt to put economic pressure on the Falkland Islands as part of the long running dispute over the sovereignty of the islands.
Background: The Falklands War
The Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, approximately 290 miles away from the Argentine mainland. The Falkland Islands are a self-governing British Overseas Territory and have been a British territory since the 1800s, although Argentina has long claimed the islands as their own. In 1982 Argentina launched amphibious landing and occupied the islands. This led to Britain launching a military task force of their own to re-take the islands. After a 74-day conflict the British were successful in forcing the Argentine forces into surrendering and British rule was re-established over the Falkland Islands. In total 649 Argentine and 255 British military personnel lost their lives in the conflict.
In the years following the Falklands War the Argentine government have been steadfast in their claim that the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina. This claim has been amplified since the arrival of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as the president of Argentina in 2007 who has repeatedly renewed Argentina’s claims to the islands. However, Britain has not wavered in their claim that the Falkland Islands have the right to self-determination and as long as the islanders want to remain British then the UK government has pledged to support and protect the islands.
In the run up to the thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War Cristina Fernández de Kirchner used the opportunity to call for talks between Britain and Argentina over the sovereignty of the islands, and even tried to hand a letter addressing this subject to British Prime Minister David Cameron during the G20 Summit in Mexico in an attempt to force Britain into discussing the issue of the Island’s sovereignty. However, Britain maintains that as long as the Falkland Islanders wish to remain British no negotiations will take place. The stakes had been raised by the belief that the territory around the islands could be rich with oil, and there had been growing anti-British feeling throughout South America – in 2011 most ports South American were closed to Falkland Island vessels in show of solidarity with Argentina in support of their claims for the islands.
However, the status quo looks likely to continue for some time. In March 2013 a vote was held asking the question “do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?.” 99.8% of Falkland Islanders voted in favour of this remaining the case.
The Squid War
In the months before the thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War the Argentine government were keen to place additional economic and social pressure on the Falklands Islands, and by extension Britain. One of the ways they could do this was by disrupting the Falkland’s fishing industry which makes up a huge proportion of the Falkland’s economy. As much as half of this £45million industry is made up of the capture of ilex squid (Illex argentinus) – a small but highly commercial squid species which is in massive demand in parts of Asia and the far east where it is seen as a delicacy.
Most cephalopod species are short-lived and this is particularly true of the ilex squid, which only has a lifespan of around one year. Their lives begin around the River Plate estuary on the border of Uruguay and Argentina and they move southwards along the coast of Argentina and past the Falkland Islands towards the colder sub-Antarctic waters where they feed on the large concentrations of zooplankton which are present there.
Argentina and the Falkland Islands had previously cooperated to work out stock levels and ensure that the fishing for ilex squid was carried out in a sustainable manner. However, by 2012 this had been abandoned and press around the world were reporting that the Argentine fishing industry was beginning a concerted effort to catch as much ilex squid as possible before it entered Falkland Island waters in order to reduce the catches for the Falkland Islands fishermen. In addition Argentina opened their squid fishing season two months early in order to increase catches a move that caused consternation amongst conservationists who said that this would lead to masses of immature squid being taken and potentially affect the breeding stock for generations to come.
Further Problems: Illegal Fishing
By 2013 the issue of illegal fishing had further emerged as an additional factor to complicate the squid war. It was claimed by a number of sources that hundreds of vessels from all over the world were operating illegally in the waters of the South Atlantic, catching an estimated 300,000 tons of ilex squid per year. This level of unregulated fishing will have a terrible impact on the sustainability of ilex squid and may even threaten the long-term survival of the species. Almost all of the illegal fishing takes place in Argentina’s territorial waters, but Argentina is unlikely to be able to take action to stop the illegal fishing as the country only possesses eight coast guard ships which means they have to cover an area of over one million square miles of sea. Support from the country’s navy is unlikely as decades of underfunding have led to most vessels being in a dilapidated condition and crews suffering from a crippling lack of training. Only 15 of Argentina’s 49 naval vessels are in a seaworthy condition and most rarely venture far from Argentina’s territorial waters due to the risk of breaking down and becoming stranded.
The severe decline of Argentina’s navy is underlined by the news that the Almirante Brown class destroyers – on paper Argentina’s best ships – sail around unarmed as their ordnance has expired, and a number of vessels built in the 1940s, such as the ARA Murature and the ARA Alferez Sobral, were still in active service with the fleet in 2013. The severe decline of Argentina’s naval power mean that policing illegal fishing is almost impossible.
The combined effects of the increasing intensity of Argentina’s fishing industry and rampant illegal fishing is likely to have a devastating effect on the ilex squid stocks. The loss of this species would have strong knock on effects for the whole of the South Atlantic ecosystem. A wide range of fish species, marine birds and seals and whales rely on ilex squid and it is unknown how these species would react to the absence of ilex squid. A resolution to this conflict is still being sought, and one hope is that the Argentine government and Falkland Islanders will be able to work together in the future to both fish within sustainable limits and work to stop the illegal fishing.