Morocco fisheries deal with EU derailed by political conflict with Western Sahara

Fishermen in Morocco.

Political conflict between Morocco and its southern, semi-autonomous neighbor Western Sahara has jeopardized the renewal of a major fisheries agreement giving several E.U. member nations access to lucrative fishing grounds off the Moroccan coast.

The Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) between the E.U. and Morocco expired on 17 July, 2023, after originally entering into force in July 2019.

The FPA, which entailed the E.U. paying EUR 208 million (USD 229 million) to Morocco over the four-year period in exchange for access rights and sectoral support, allowed 128 E.U. fishing vessels, 98 of them from Spain, access to a specified fishing zone that encompassed Atlantic Ocean waters off the North African coast, including the adjacent waters of Western Sahara.

The vessels had permission to catch demersal species allocated to Spain and Portugal, as well as tuna allocated to Spain and France.

The Netherlands, Lithuania, and Latvia possessed more than 70 percent of the allocated quotas for large-scale small pelagics, with the remainder shared between Germany, the U.K., Poland, Ireland, Portugal, France, and Spain, according to a previous briefing from the European Commission.

Prior to the agreement’s expiration this month, the General Court of the European Union, the bloc’s second most powerful chamber behind the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), annulled the deal in October 2021 because Western Sahara had no negotiating power in the deal.

This was in response to a 2019 lawsuit from the Polisario Front, an Algeria-backed rebel liberation movement that claims to rule Western Sahara, insisting that its nation had not consented to the deal. Morocco, meanwhile, still claims Western Sahara as part of its own country and does not recognize the Polisario Front as a legitimate ruling party.

The General Court agreed that the Polisario Front had the legal capacity to bring proceedings before E.U., courts despite Morocco’s opposition.

“The court takes the view that, in so far as the agreements at issue apply expressly to Western Sahara, and as regards the decision concerning the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement to the waters adjacent to that territory [Western Sahara], they concern the people of that territory and require the consent of its people,” the court said in its ruling at the time.

Morocco is highly unlikely to approach the negotiating table if ... 

Photo courtesy of Philip Lange/Shutterstock

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