The EU has 128 fishing licences for Morocco waters but only 18 EU-registered vessels fully utilise them
The European Union has wasted hundreds of millions of Euros on fishing licences for Morocco and the Western Sahara that few Spanish fishing vessels use according to a report in El Pais, a newspaper in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.
The newspaper reports that the EU paid €52 million per year in exchange for fishing licences for 128 EU-registered fishing vessels. Of these licences, 92 of these are given to Spanish boats but the newspaper report reveals that in both 2021 and 2022, only a quarter of the Spanish fleet made use of this entitlement.
The agreement with Morocco, which was declared illegal by the Court of Justice of the EU and is now pending appeal filed by the EU Commission for that ruling, has been an expensive deal for the EU Member States.
The coast of the deal between the EU and Morocco has been steadily rising as the years go by.
In 2013, Morocco was paid €40 million per year for 126 EU-registered fishing vessels, and in 2019, the bill increased by 12 million, when €52 million. El Pais, claims that this has been paid even if no boat ever goes fishing in the waters off Morocco and the Western Sahara.
As for the boat owners, they can renew their licences every quarter and use them or not. In the case that they do go fishing, they have to pay a quarterly canon to Morocco according to the tonnage of the vessel.
The report says, “In the first quarter of 2021, 27 of Morocco’s 92 licenses were used; in the second, also 27; in the third, 24 and in the fourth, only 17. In relation to Western Sahara, the figures are also reduced. Of the 92 Spanish ships with permission to enter Morocco, there are licenses available for 25 tuna vessels, corresponding to category five, set by the European Union. These can fish both in the Sahara and in the north of Morocco. Of them, only 12 per quarter have applied for licenses, less than half.”
Who really wins from the Morocco Agreement?
There are two other categories set by the European Union that fish only in Western Sahara. These are categories three (artisanal boats) and four (longline and trawl boats). For them, there are 22 licenses available. But in no quarter have the four licenses been exceeded. Most quarters ended with only three licenses.
El Pais explains, “These figures may seem contradictory if one considers that 91% of the catches made in Morocco by the 128 vessels of the European Union come from Saharawi waters. How to explain then that 91% of the fishing in Morocco leaves Western Sahara with so few Spanish boats fishing in those waters? A source familiar with the sector who requests anonymity explain to El Pais that the key lies in industrial pelagic fishing. “There are only 18 boats dedicated to this fishing in the Sahara. Most of them come from Germany and the Netherlands, there are non-Spanish. But among those 18 boats they catch more tons than the rest of the 128 that fish in Morocco”.
As for the Spanish shipowners, the reasons they give for not making use of the licenses are heterogeneous. Several of them argue that licenses to work in Western Sahara are requested as a second resource, in case the year goes badly in other fishing grounds, especially in Mauritania.”
Most of the 92 Spanish vessels licenced to fish in Morocco are located in Andalusia, where there are 47 vessels anchored in Barbate, Conil, Algeciras and Tarifa. It is followed by Canarias, with 38, and Galicia, with seven. In Galicia, the importance of the Moroccan fishing ground is no longer what it was in 1999, when the rupture of the agreement between Rabat and Brussels forced more than 500 Galician vessels to leave those waters.
Juan Martín Fragueiro, manager of the Organisation of Fishing Producers of the Port and Ría de Marín (Opromar) attributes the little use of the licenses to the biological strike “unilaterally imposed by Morocco” during the months of April and May and from October to December to demersal fishing. He maintains that the inactivity decreed by the Maghreb country in 2019 limited them to fishing 28 days throughout the year, despite the fact that they requested a license for two months. And he assures that although they have claimed the return of the money paid for those two months, they have not returned it.
The representative of the fishing producers of Marin calls the biological strike decreed by Morocco pseudo-scientific, since it is adopted “thinking only of the Moroccan fleet that focuses on cephalopod fishing, but ours does not target those same resources.”
Francisco Freire, president of the National Association of Cephalopod Fishing Freezer Vessel Owners (ANACEF), acknowledges that for the Galician vessels of his association with community licenses in Morocco (five freezers from the former cephalopod fleet and one trawler), the value of the Moroccan fishing ground is only “complementary”. “We only make use of community licenses if Bissau fails, in the case of freezers, or Mauritania, in the case of cephalopods,” he says.
However, Freire acknowledges that if the agreement with Morocco were to be annulled, there would be one less fishing option. “And there are few options left. Losing fishing opportunities in African fishing grounds is bad for the fleet”, he assures. That is the feeling of the majority of the Spanish employers consulted: they assume that the Moroccan fishing ground is no longer so profitable. But they don’t want to be deprived of it either. Even if it is, as a complement to other more nourished waters.