the list of geographical coordinates of points defining the outer limit of the Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone of the Republic of Croatia
Although the creation of the Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone (Zaštićeni ekološko-ribolovni pojas, ZERP in Croatian) by Croatia is justified as a fisheries resources protection measure, its scope goes even further. There are interferences with border disputes and rhetorical nationalism is creating serious obstacles to the conclusion of technical agreements. The question of the ZERP has become a priority issue in the negotiations for the accession of Croatia to the European Union.
The 1994 Croatian Maritime Code had already provided for the establishment of broad jurisdiction. The ZERP was created on the initiative of the Croatian Peasant Party, which was part of the government coalition in 2003.
The decision to create the Ecological and Fisheries Protection Zone (see Annex II) was published on 3 October 2003 under the Government of Ivica Račan. It entered into force a year later, but excluded the EU Member States from its scope of application. Since 1 January 2008 the zone has been fully in force, even for EU Member States.
With the creation of the ZERP, Croatia extended its jurisdiction to the high seas, with 23 870 km2, beyond its territorial waters (31 757 km²).
The boundaries of the ZERP go beyond Croatian territorial waters. They were established according to the Treaty concluded in 1968 between Italy and the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and the Treaty concluded in 2001 between Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. According to the 1968 Treaty, the ZERP would reach the Italian/Croatian halfway line on the bed of the continental shelf in the Adriatic.
In principle, the ZERP should guarantee all countries the freedom of navigation and overflight and the freedom to lay submarine cables and pipelines. For fisheries, the ZERP system would provide for the conclusion of agreements with other states to fish the remainder of the total allowable catch, which would be set in order to preserve living resources. The ZERP would allow the Croatian authorities to exercise powers in relation to protecting a vulnerable marine environment and the exploitation of fisheries resources.
Even though the law of the sea allows for the extension of maritime jurisdictions, Croatia’s pretensions go beyond the Community acquis and raise considerable problems with resource management and fisheries monitoring.
At the time of writing this note there have not been many incidents inside the ZERP. On 3 January 2008 the Croatian navy intercepted an Italian trawler with three fishermen and it was taken to the port of Vis. In fact, it appears that this incident was not directly related to the ZERP as the Italian trawler was reportedly inspected in Croatian territorial waters. On 6 February 2008 the Turkish cargo ship UND Adriyatik caught fire right on the border of the ZERP. This incident was seen in Croatia as being a test of the effectiveness of the ZERP.
Slovenia and Italy both see the creation of the ZERP as an issue to be resolved prior to any detailed discussion of the options for the management and conservation of fisheries resources. Despite this, the perception of the creation of the ZERP is very different in each of the states bordering Croatia. Italy attaches a great deal of importance to the potential economic effects of restrictions on fisheries. Before the establishment of the ZERP the value of the Italian fleet’s catches in the zone was estimated at 300 million euros, 10 times the value of the Croatian catches. Federcoopesca estimates that a third of the value of Italian catches comes from the ZERP.
Slovenia, meanwhile, wants to maintain its historical access for a limited number of fishing vessels with very restricted possibilities in Croatian territorial waters, along the north-western part of Istria.
In fact, Slovenia’s annual catches amount to around 1 000 tonnes, 40% of which is caught in international waters. Of the 165 boats in the Slovenian fleet, only 23 are longer than 12 metres. The potential access problems would affect these 23 boats and catches of around 400 tonnes per year.
Slovenia’s operational programme for the European Fisheries Fund provides for the implementation of measures to ‘temporarily halt fishing activities’. These measures are aimed at reducing the fishing effort of the Slovenian vessels that are normally active in international waters and could be affected by the Croatian ZERP. Slovenia considers that this situation would only be temporary.
Slovenia, whose coast is only 46.6 kilometres long, is involved in a border and maritime access dispute with Croatia. According to Slovenia, the ZERP is linked to the border dispute over the Bay of Piran.
The Slovenian Government, which has been accused of being weak in defending national interests, has repeatedly said that the issue should be dealt with at EU level. The Prime Minister, Mr Janša, has said that it is up to Croatia to take the next step by implementing the 2004 agreement, or by putting forward a new proposal. Mr Janša has announced that Slovenia would not take advantage of its EU presidency, but that the presidency should nevertheless not be an obstacle to defending Slovenia’s interests. Slovenia has blocked the opening of the fisheries chapter of Croatia’s negotiations for accession to the European Union.
A fresh moratorium does not appear to be sufficient for Italy and Slovenia to enter into new negotiations. Restructuring of the protection zone focusing on the Pomo/Jabuka Pit would be justified from a scientific point of view and make it pointless to maintain the ZERP.
The room for manoeuvre available to the new Croatian Government led by Ivo Sanader is very limited. The creation of the ZERP has very broad political support in Croatia. The Croatian Liberal Social Party (HSLS), the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and the Democratic Centre support the ZERP. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Prime Minister Ivo Sanader’s party, has a more nuanced position, invoking the possible reactions of the European Union. A revocation of the ZERP would not be easy, given that the alliance of the Croatian Liberal Social Party and the Croatian Peasant Party is in favour of it. Even though this alliance only has 8 members of parliament out of a total of 153, it is assured a solid position in the government, in which it is guaranteed a majority. Croatian public opinion is very much in favour of maintaining the ZERP.
Legal issues associated with the ZERP
In order to create the ZERP, Croatia used as a basis the Montego Bay Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the Croatian Government informed the United Nations of its decision before the zone was implemented (see Annex III). Nevertheless, Croatia did not comply with Article 123 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the consultation of neighbouring countries.
The EU’s technical regulations are, in general, more strict than Croatian regulations. Consequently, EU fishermen should not have any problem complying with Croatian standards.
Nevertheless, it appears that Croatia wants to remain in control and limit access in the future, while the Community acquis provides for unrestricted access to Exclusive Economic Zone for Member State vessels.
Chapter III of Regulation (EC) 1967/2006 concerning the conservation of resources in the Mediterranean stated that the Member States had to define for the first time, before 31 December 2007, the protected zones and any management measures to be applied in those zones, both within the waters under their jurisdiction and outside them. Regarding protected national zones, Article 7 states that ‘when a proposed fishing protected area within the territorial waters of a Member State is liable to affect the vessels of another Member State, it shall be designated only after the Commission, the Member State and the Regional Advisory Council concerned have been consulted’.
Croatia claims that the creation of the ZERP is justified by the general guidelines of the Community Action Plan for the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources in the Mediterranean, adopted in December 2002 by the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council. It mentions the prospect of the establishment of new fishery protection zones in the Mediterranean basin. It also states that the ecological protection zone created by France in the Mediterranean in April 2003 is a precedent for the ZERP.
Croatia is also invoking other precedents concerning the extension of jurisdiction in the Mediterranean such as the Fisheries Protection Zone (Spain), the Exclusive Fisheries Zone (Malta), the Reserved Fisheries Area (Algeria), the Fisheries Area (Tunisia), the Exclusive Economic Zone (Morocco, Egypt, and all the countries bordering the Black Sea) and the Extended Territorial Waters (Syria).
Another argument used by the Croatian Government in favour of establishing the ZERP is that of protecting the coastline and the tourist industry from the risk of oil slicks after the sinking of the Prestige.