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Fishermen in Spain protest reef creation

A fisherman demonstrated in the bay of Algeciras near the Rock of Gibraltar.

Marcos Moreno/AFP/Getty Images

A fisherman demonstrated in the bay of Algeciras near the Rock of Gibraltar.

LA LINEA DE LA CONCEPCION, Spain— Spanish fishermen in some 60 fishing boats protested on Sunday the building of an artificial reef near the disputed British territory of Gibraltar. The construction of the reef has soured relations between Madrid and London.

The fishermen say the reef of around 70 concrete blocks — some with steel rods protruding — can snare and damage their nets, something that has stopped them from fishing there.

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“What are we losing? A bay full of seafood,” said fisherman Manuel Morente. ‘‘That’s where we all used to fish, and now it’s full of blocks.’’

The protest was monitored by a dozen Spanish and Gibraltar police vessels that prevented the fishing boats from getting near the reef. Gibraltar’s government, led by Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, says the reef protects fish stocks from being overexploited.

Spain ceded sovereignty of Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 but has persistently sought to regain the tiny southern enclave.

The latest dispute has led to a spike in tensions, with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain saying he will take all legal measures to defend his country’s interests.

Among steps taken by Spain are border checks on cars entering and leaving Gibraltar, leading to long queues that can take hours to clear.

Many Spaniards, and Gibraltarians who chose to live in Spain, commute to work every day across the border.

Rajoy has defended border controls, saying they help combat the contraband of drugs and tobacco, adding that the checks were in line with security policies employed by member countries of the Schengen free travel zone to which Britain and Gibraltar do not belong.

Spain has also floated the idea of charging people entering and leaving Gibraltar $66 to provide compensation for the losses that the fishermen face. Picardo has refused to back down, saying that ‘‘hell will freeze over’’ before Gibraltar removes the reef in compliance with Spain’s demands

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