Morocco’s King Mohammed VI took advantage of Spain’s King Felipe VI’s visit to announce that, at last, he will be signing the fishing agreement with the European Union. This will allow EU boats, mainly Spanish, to return to fishing in Moroccan waters, from where they were expelled in December 2011. Morocco’s signature has been pending since February. Up to 120 vessels from 11 EU countries (mainly Spain, but also Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Netherlands, Ireland, Poland and the UK) will be fishing under the new protocol.
The European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, welcomed the signing, and emphasised that: “we made sure that the EU’s fishing rights do not exceed the scientifically sound limit that ensures sustainable fisheries, and that European vessels do not compete with local fishermen. I am confident that the EU’s financial support will help build a sustainable future for Moroccan fisheries through the targeted sectoral support.”
The EU has negotiated access by Morocco for species that are not fully exploited (or are overexploited), a consequence being that Morocco’s Mediterranean fishing area is reserved for Moroccan operators, as well as some fisheries such as octopus and crustaceans.
The Spanish fishing industry generally welcomed the new agreement because the “closure” of fishing in Guinea Conakry, “the lack of implementation of the agreement” with Guinea Bissau, and the “non-start” of the fisheries agreement with Senegal all meant that their fleets’ fishing grounds end at Gambia and Sierra Leone, which are “much poorer in fish resources”. Therefore, they are hoping to be able to restart fishing operations in Moroccan waters in August, and also hope that other fisheries, such as octopus, could be opened up to them in the future.
The Moroccan fishing sector estimates that a few aspects need to be reviewed for the next protocol. “The landing of catches in Moroccan ports would be a good way to ensure that fishing quotas are respected,” said a fishing sector representative. “As long as Morocco will not be able to obtain it, a large part of Moroccan fisheries resources are likely to escape all control.”
The opening up of Moroccan fishing grounds will somewhat ease the situation for fleets currently unable to access some other fishing grounds in West Africa (Mauritania, Guinea, etc.). This highlights that all foreign fishing fleets (e.g. European, Asian) – even those fishing for stocks that are not migratory – rotate between different fishing grounds in a region, depending on the availability of fishing possibilities or the conditions made by the coastal country. This suggests it is necessary for ACP countries in a given region to share data about which foreign fleets operate in their waters, and under what conditions, to be able to anticipate any issue that may arise from the displacement of vessels from one fishing ground to another: potential competition with the local sector, increased pressure on some resources, etc. To avoid such issues, coastal countries in a region will ultimately need to harmonise access conditions made to all foreign fleets, including, but not restricted to, those fishing under fishing agreements. The West African Sub-regional Fisheries Commission’s efforts to ensure that its eight members implement the Convention on Minimal Access Conditions (CMA) are commendable. This Convention could become a useful reference for future agreements signed with foreign countries or entities (e.g. China, Russia, and the EU).