China fisheries setting sail for Morocco

China is looking to become a major presence in Moroccan waters starting next year, a development that will provide competition for E.U. trawlers. One of China's giant state-owned fishing firms, Shanghai Fisheries General Corp (SFGCG) claims it has doubled its takings in Morocco to USD 11.9 million (EUR 8.6 million) in value terms in the first half of this year and set a new company record by landing 2,400 metric tons (MT) in 130 days, according to a statement from the company's offices in the Moroccan port city of Agadir.

The bumper Chinese haul was helped by the delivery this summer of four new dragnet trawlers (each 33.2 meters in length). Company director Pu Shaohua told workers at SFGCG's base on a recent visit to Agadir that he saw "lots of opportunities" in Moroccan waters and planned to dispatch more vessels to the firm's Agadir crew, as part of what the firm calls its "Moroccan Project." Pu vowed to "promote our company's development capacity in Moroccan waters" by adding more vessels.

Securing supplies of sardines, tuna and other cannery favorites is important for Chinese fishery officials and processors who have regularly stated an intention to build a canning industry to compete with Thailand and to match export and a growing domestic demand. That appears to be recognized by Moroccan fisheries officials, who have their sights set on better contacts and contracts with China. Speaking on a recent trip to China, a Moroccan fisheries official said China would become a larger market for Moroccan fish and shellfish while also providing advice on the country's ambitious aquaculture expansion program.

"We are small but even the small have their place," according to a spokesman at the Moroccan National Federation of Seafood Processing and Valorization Industries (FENIP), speaking to Seafoodsource. He explained that the quality of Moroccan seafood and a track record of supplying E.U. markets makes Moroccan product an easy sell to China.

Also speaking to Seafoodsource, Ahmed Alaoni Ennajeh at the seafood exporter Groupe Polyvalent praised the interest of Chinese fisheries players. "We have four or five species that could really work here," he said, pointing to sardines and mackerel as well as oysters.

Morocco plans to expand its seafood exports from 1.03 (2010) to 1.6 million MT in 2020 while also ramping up earnings from the sector from USD 1.5 billion (EUR 1.1 billion) in 2010 to USD 3.1 billion (EUR 2.3 billion) by 2020. Fisheries account for almost 7 percent of the nation's employment, according to official Moroccan data, but the industry has also caused controversy, given up to 40 percent of the sardine catch is landed in the Western Sahara region, an area seen by some as annexed territory.

China's focus in recent years on long-distance fleets has brought firms like SFGCG to Moroccan waters. Morocco's fisheries industry could perhaps use Chinese investment — A recent China Central TV report described as "outdated" the country's fleet and processing sector. The report also, however, pointed out Morocco's fishery riches, with access to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.

Morocco gets EUR 40 million (USD 55.1 million) from the E.U. each year for access to its fishing grounds. Spain has argued for a continuation of the arrangement, though other E.U. states have questioned the morality of the deal given Morocco's hold over the disputed Western Sahara region.

Crustaceans and mollusks are key Moroccan export commodities. Moroccan oyster exporter SAIDI exhibited at the recent China Seafood Expo show in Dalian, branding itself "the king of oysters," and Japan has long been a key buyer of octopus, squid and cuttlefish from the high seas.

While Morocco is keen to increase exports the country has a reputation for bureaucracy. While FENIP promotes the processing sector another state body, l'Agence Nationale pour le Développement de l'Aquaculture (ANDA) has been promoting the development of Morocco's aquaculture sector, as an export earner and job creator, with demonstration zones clustered around the Mediterranean city of Al Hoceima.


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