EU-Morocco fishing agreement

Bilateral treaties used to govern the right of Spanish and Portuguese fleets to fish in Moroccan territorial waters, until Spain and Portugal joined the EEC in 1986. Then, the Commission began negotiating a global fishing agreement with Morocco.

In 1988, the EC and Morocco signed a 4-year fishing agreement which provided for a maximum of 800 annual licenses for Spanish and Portuguese trawlers without any restriction as to the fished quantities or species. Morocco imposed a one month biological rest period in order to protect its fish stocks. Morocco was compensated with ECU 282 millions.

In 1992, the EC and Morocco signed a new agreement with better terms for the latter: financial compensation amounted to ECU 310 millions and the biological rest period was extended to 3 months for cephalopods and to 2 months for other species. Due to disagreements over license use, both parties put an end to the agreement a year early (April 1995).

The UE and Morocco entered into long and difficult negotiations as fishing licenses had been refused to European trawlers for several months. A new agreement including significant changes was finally signed in November 1995 (along with the EC-Morocco Association Agreement).

Valid for a 4-year period without any intermediate revision, the current agreement provides for a progressive reduction of licenses delivered by the Moroccan authorities as well as a quantitative fishing restriction for certain species (cephalopods and shrimps mainly). Furthermore, the biologic rest period was extended to 4 months for cephalopods and other types of fish. Financial compensation now amounts to ECU 355 millions to which an aid of ECU 145 millions is added for the development of the industrial fisheries sector, marine research and the training of Moroccan fishermen.

Morocco has clearly indicated on several occasions that this agreement will not be renewed after its expiry (30.11.99) as it legitimately wants to develop its national fisheries sector and prevent the total exhaustion of its fish stocks. This was again reaffirmed in September 1999 when the Moroccan minister for Fisheries explained to the press that « everything is negotiable except the renewal of the agreement ».

Nevertheless, Morocco hopes to attract European investment in its fisheries sector, in particular by way of joint venture companies.

The agreement expired, as scheduled, on 30 November 1999. This situation created an acute problem for the Spanish and Portuguese fishing fleets which were banned from the Moroccan waters. The EU leaked that it could exert pressure on Morocco in the negotiation for the implementation of the new association agreement with Europe or through the implementation of the MEDA Programme. Meanwhile, the EU signed its biggest fishing agreement with Mauritania in 1998, becoming the most important agreement signed with a third party, accounting for €430 million over a period of five years.

Despite the difficulties of negotiations for a renewal of the agreement expired in 1999, a new fisheries agreement EU-Morocco was signed in July 2005. Although smaller than previous agreements, it has been established for 4 years, allowing 119 European fishing vessels access to Moroccan waters and in Morocco providing financial compensation of 36 million Euros per year. Part of this compensation will contribute towards the development and modernization of the Moroccan fisheries industry. This new agreement has faced however strong pro-Polisario criticism associated with the complex situation of Western Sahara.

See also: EU-Morocco relations