Morocco, EU sign new fishing rights deal
RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco and the European Union signed a new four-year agreement Wednesday allowing European fleets to fish the North African kingdom’s coastal waters in exchange for 40 million euros ($53 million) a year.
The agreement, announced in a Rabat press conference, must be approved by the European parliament, which in December 2011 declined to renew an earlier 36 million euro-per-year deal. The parliament said at the time that the deal was unprofitable, allowed the exploitation of stocks and didn’t help the people of the Western Sahara, off whose coast most of the fishing occurred.
“I can be optimistic, and I hope the European Parliament can understand the difference from the previous one,” said Maria Damanaki, the European commissioner for maritime affairs.
She stressed that the new accord was sustainable and only fished Morocco’s surplus stocks. The money from the deal would benefit the local population, she said.
“There has to be respect for international law so the local population has to get the profit of the agreement we signed,” she added.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 and considers it part of its territory, despite a separatist movement seeking independence.
European lawmakers originally suggested that a new deal should be struck that does not include the waters off Western Sahara, but Moroccan Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch confirmed to journalists the accord included the whole coastline.
Morocco reacted angrily to the expiration of the old accord, with the foreign ministry threatening to “reevaluate” relations with the EU. Losing the income from the accord came at a bad time for Morocco, with the economy hit by the global slowdown and the government increasing spending to placate social unrest brought on by the Arab Spring.
The new accord will authorize 126 fishing boats as opposed to the 137 in the previous agreement and 14 million euros of the money will be dedicated to improving Morocco’s own fishing sector and the management of its stocks.
“I think the new accord is more balanced and we can defend it in front of the two parliaments,” said Akhannouch. There is no set timetable for when the accord will be ratified but the officials said it would be a matter of months.