Slovenian fishermen whom Croatia has been fining for fishing in waters that a border arbitration tribunal awarded to Slovenia in 2017 have turned to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg after exhausting all legal possibilities for an appeal in Croatia.
The Croatian authorities have been issuing fees to Slovenian fishermen because Croatia does not recognise the border arbitration tribunal’s decision to award most of the Bay of Piran to Slovenia. Instead, it claims the border runs in the middle of the bay.
The fishermen turned to the ECHR after exhausting all legal options for appeal in Croatia, including an appeal to the Croatian Constitutional Court.
Matjaž Radin, a fisherman from Koper, told the STA on 14 March that the Croatian rulings were a financial and psychological burden on the fishermen. The fines come every day, and they have stopped counting them.
The fishermen get state-funded legal assistance under a law on the implementation of the arbitration award, but sources at the Foreign Ministry have said Slovenia is not involved in the application to the ECHR because countries cannot bring applications at the court.
The fishermen have not been informed yet whether the court will admit their case.
Sources at the ministry recently said that if the ECHR takes on the case, the main question will probably be where the fishermen fished. If the ECHR nodded to the fishermen’s appeal it would in a way legitimise the arbitration award.
Fishermen have filed many applications because separate procedures are under way for every fine they get. The Strasbourg court may decide to merge them into one case and make a pilot judgement like in the case of suits brought by borrowers against the defunct Slovenian bank LB over Yugoslav-era savings deposits.
Croatia joining the Schengen Area has not changed the situation for the fishermen and they are still being fined for crossing into the waters Croatia claims as its own and conducting what the country deems illegal economic activity.
Sources at the Slovenian Foreign Ministry note that Croatia has been publicly reiterating that practical issues faced by people must be resolved, while it continues to exercise jurisdiction in half of the Bay of Piran, perhaps to be able to prove sometime in the future that it had always done so.
So far, all attempts at resolving the issue of fisheries in the Bay of Piran despite the discord between Slovenia and Croatia over the arbitration award have failed.
Slovenia would be willing to agree to the 2001 agreement on border traffic and cooperation (SOPS), but Croatia will not settle on that.
According to unnamed sources, Croatia was also against removing a note from the EU fisheries regulation which says that provisions on traditional fishing areas take effect for Croatia and Slovenia after the implementation of the arbitration award. The removal of that note would solve the issue for fishermen on both sides of the border.