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European Fishing Vessels, Western Sahara

70% of Moroccan catch comes from Saharan area. European-Moroccan Fishing Deals Perpetuate Marginalization and Exploitation of Saharan Population.


Western Sahara’s coastal fishing zones have long been considered part of Morocco’s Fisheries Partnership Agreement with the European Union despite the contested nature of Moroccan sovereignty over the territory. Since 1988/89, the European Union (lobbied mostly by Spain, France, and Portugal) has entered into multiple trade agreements with Morocco. Under the current arrangement, Morocco takes in roughly 30 million Euros annually (14 million of which are earmarked for fishery development) with an additional 10 million expected from fees paid by ship owners. While catches made by foreign fleets have decreased in the period following the “Green March” of 1975, fishing efforts have increased, which may potentially indicate overuse of these fishing areas. These fishing deals, which are signed into existence without the consent of the Sahrawi people, are not beneficial to them, continuously displace them from the fishing industry, and harm the fishing waters that lay off their coasts. The Moroccan government is dependent on these agreements for funding; in December of 2016, when the Court of Justice of the European Union decreed that the Western Sahara was not subject to EU-Moroccan trade agreements, the Moroccan King leveraged the migrant crisis against the EU, stating that the termination of such an agreement would detriment Morocco’s economy and cause waves of migration to Europe. At present, the issue stands in limbo and multiple appeals have been filed against the recent ruling of the CJEU.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:European Fishing Vessels, Western Sahara
State or province:Laayoune-Sakia-El Hamra, Western Sahara
Location of conflict:Laayoune/Sakia El-Hamra, Western Sahara
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Shrimps
Project Details and Actors
Project details

70% of Moroccan catch comes from Saharan area.

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Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:Roughly 90,000 Sahrawis living in coastal areas
Start of the conflict:26/05/1988
Relevant government actors:European Union
Ministry of Fisheries
Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development and Maritime Fishing
Court of Justice of the European Union
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:European Court of Justice
Western Sahara Resource Watch
Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic
Other Journalists
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Boycotts of companies-products
Independent journalist reporting
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Other Environmental impactsDepletion of Fish Stocks
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsSocio-economic marginalization of Sahrawis, Tacit recognition of Moroccan occupying force in Western Sahara.
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:1. Delegation of Fishery-agreement authority to Western Sahara representation
2. European acknowledgment of Western Sahara conflict and the implications of off-shore fishing (completed)
3. More scrutinous monitoring policies to eliminate over-fishing potential
4. Re-integration of Sahrawi fisherman into fishing economy
These alternatives have been proposed primarily by Organizations devoted to spreading awareness of the state of affairs in the Western Sahara, such as Western Sahara Resource Watch, as well as other environmentally-minded EJOs.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Currently the issue of Western Saharan fisheries seems to be moving in the right direction. The CJEU recently struck down the ability of the EU to apply rules and regulations outlined in EU-Moroccan fishing agreements to the Western Sahara due to the latter’s contested status. However, fishing practices off the coast of the Moroccan mainland will continue to incentivize fishing off the Saharan coast. Additionally, true representation for the Sahrawis in fishery agreements would necessitate a degree of recognition of Saharan autonomy by the Moroccan government, an issue which is currently non-negotiable given the current political climate and the Monarchy’s stance on the Saharan territory. Additionally, several cases have already been filed to reverse the decision of the CJEU.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Protocol between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco setting out the fishing opportunities and financial contribution provided for in the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the European Union and the Kingdom of Morocco
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

“An Overview of Fish Removals from Morocco By Distant-Water Fleets” – Dyhia Belhabib, Sarah Harper, and Dirk Zeller.
[click to view]

“Is the EU taking its Over-Fishing Habits to West African Waters?”
[click to view]

“Morocco Uses Migrant Crisis as Leverage in EU Free Trade Dispute”
[click to view]

“WSRW: Endangered Biodiversity, Endangered People” – Western Sahara Resource Watch
[click to view]

“Morocco’s Fish Fight: High Stakes over Western Sahara” – Aidan Lewis
[click to view]

“European Court Dismisses Morocco’s Claim to Western Sahara, Throwing EU Trade Deal into Doubt” – Dominic Dudley
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Brennan Ryan, Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2802
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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