Saharawi fishermen condemn EU-Morocco fishing treaty ‘fraud’

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EXCLUSIVE / A draft fishing treaty between the EU and Morocco has been condemned as “fraud” by Saharawi fishermen who view it as an enabling mechanism for the theft and depletion of their local fishing stocks.

Roughly half of the coastline claimed by Morocco belongs to the Western Sahara, a desert territory, which Rabat militarily occupied in 1975. But the draft agreement would allow EU fleets to fish there in exchange for an annual €40 million payment.

A statement posted online by Saharawi fishermen from Dakhla said: “This agreement doesn’t respect the international legality, doesn’t respect the damaged environmental status of the region because of over-exploitation [and] doesn’t respect the political will of the Saharawi people.”

It continues: “We wonder what [Maritime and Fisheries Commissioner] Maria Damanaki, was doing in Rabat, signing an agreement with a state that holds no legal sovereignty over Western Sahara to allow a fraudulent exploitation of the [Western Saharan] resources? Isn’t this a bare act of buying stolen goods?”

The draft protocol, which EurActiv has seen, allows the EU to fish in any waters Morocco defines as its own and contains no human rights clauses, despite previous commitments by Brussels to seek these.

A letter sent by a director at the Commission’s maritime affairs directorate, seen by EurActiv, says that the EU “entirely supports” UN Security Council resolutions calling for the self-determination of the Saharawi people.

“Concretely, throughout the negotiations, the European Commission is seeking to obtain an agreement that includes a clause of compliance with human rights, is fully compliant with international law and serves the interests of all the local populations concerned,” the letter says.

But the agreement struck with Rabat says only that its implementation would happen in accordance with Article 2 of the existing EU-Morocco Association Agreement “concerning respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights.”

Saharawi people not invited to EU-Morocco talks

Sara Eyckmans, a spokeswoman for Western Sahara Resource Watch, said that this “missed the entire point” of legal opinions from the European Parliament, and from the United Nations.

“It is a scandal that the Saharawi people weren’t invited to take part in the negotiations,” she told EurActiv. “It really is a no-brainer: no fisheries in Western Sahara unless you hear from the Saharawis. The Commission has failed to do so and as a result this agreement is invalid.”

The fisheries protocol, which was negotiated by the European Commission, will still need to be approved by the Council of EU member states, and the European Parliament, which voted down a previous protocol with Morocco in December 2011. 

Under the new agreement, the EU would pay Morocco €30 million a year for fishing rights, while European ship owners would pay it an additional €10 million.

The EU payments would compensate Morocco for market access and incentivise the hiring of more than the 130 or so Moroccan (not Western Saharan) fishermen, who benefited from the last agreement.

Ecological damage

But the EU’s monies will not cover externalities such as ecological damage or depletion of fish stocks, even though the European Commission’s own evaluation report concluded that the presence of EU fleets exacerbated these problems.

Between 2007 and 2010, EU fishermen landed around 44,000 tonnes of fish a year – 5% of Morocco’s total catch – according to the study by the Oceanic Développement consultancy.

It found that the waters off Morocco and Western Sahara were over-exploited and that the presence of EU fleets would cause additional damage to fish stocks.

Since that evaluation was made, Morocco has increased its fleet, and signed a large industrial agreement with Russia, whose fleet is fishing exclusively in Western Saharan waters.

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