Slovenia started implementing the border arbitration judgment with Croatia on December 30, 2017, most noticeably by patrolling the waters awarded to it in the Piran Bay. TCN went to visit the Croatian fishermen in Savudrija to find out how the changes were affecting them.
As the year ends and everyone hopes for a better 2018, spare a thought for the Croatian fishermen of Croatia’s northernmost Adriatic outpost in Savudrija.
Life changed for them yesterday as the Slovenian authorities unilaterally started to implement the judgment of the long-running border arbitration process between Croatia and Slovenia in the disputed Piran Bay close to Savudrija, a popular fishing destination for generations for Savudrija fishermen.
The arbitration judgment awarded 80% of the bay to Slovenia, and yesterday the Slovenian authorities began to implement the new regime.
No boats went to Piran today, and there were several fishermen busy tending their nets when I arrived around lunchtime, and the mood was very sombre. Three boats had gone out the previous day, but they had been intercepted by the Slovenian police by boat and returned to Croatian waters. But not before they had been photographed. They subsequently learned via the Slovenian media via its interior minister that the boats would be fined up to 40,000 euro each for the unauthorised border incursion.
As usually happens in such cases, while the politicians posture, it is the little man who suffers, and a way of life for these fishermen is now very much under threat. Whereas previously there were no borders to think about, now access to fishing spots is totally off limits, as is transit through them to other waters. BUt the ban on fishing in Piran Bay is just part of their problems.
With no access to the majority bay, they also have no access to some members of family, regular clients who used to buy their fish, and a whole host of suppliers and fishing contacts. Do they dare to risk the prospect of another 40,000 euro fine just to go about their daily business?
They are powerless to do anything about the bigger picture, for this is an issue which has to be solved at the political level. And that is where things get a little more complicated. Croatia withdrew from the arbitration process after citing irregularities on the Slovenian side. Croatia does not recognise the decision, which has been backed by other EU members, while Slovenia has already begun implementing it. Croatia has apparently seven police boats of superior quality to the two of Slovenia, and while nobody is suggesting that the conflict will escalate into something physical, it is clear that something needs to be done on a practical level, so that these fishermen can continue to ply their trade. Perhaps some kind of licence and exemption and pre-determined quota for boats registered in Savudrija before arbitration proceedings began?
While they wait, the fishermen sell what they manage to catch.
On the other side of Savudrija is the disputed Piran Bay, and today’s fishing action on the Croatian side was confined to a lone Croatian fishermen. Is this a sign of things to come?