The four-year Fisheries Protocol between Morocco and the EU expired last Saturday. Over 90% of the European catches under the deal were made in the waters of Western Sahara - illegally occupied by Morocco.
At midnight, Saturday 14 July 2018, the EU-Morocco Fisheries Protocol expired, forcing the EU-flagged fishing boats to return home.
In spite of four rounds of negotiations - the latest round held in Rabat on the eve of expiration - the parties could not agree on a follow-up Protocol.
Remarkably, the EU and Morocco had fairly rapidly settled the expected point of contention: how to relate to Western Sahara - a Non-Self-Governing Territory the size of the UK that is largely occupied by Morocco and subject to a UN peace process, and also the scene for the lion's share of EU fishing through the deal with Morocco. Earlier this year, in February, the Court of Justice of the European Union had invalidated the current EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement insofar as it was applied to Western Sahara
. Western Sahara, the Court stated, does not fall under Moroccan “sovereignty or “jurisdiction”, and is not part of “Moroccan fishing zones” – a notion used throughout the Agreement and its implementing Protocols. The EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement has been in place since 2006, but is implemented through Protocols which are up for renegotiation every four years.
Morocco and the EU had agreed early on in the negotiation process, which kicked of in April this year, to have "Western Sahara" explicitely referred to in the geographical scope of both the Agreement and the new implementing Protocol.
This prompted the Western Sahara liberation movement Polisario to initiate new legal proceedings against the EU-Morocco plans to cooperate on fisheries in the waters of occupied Western Sahara
, which they consider a violation of their right to self-determination.
For the EU, the main pebble in the shoe is the monetary aspect: Morocco wants to receive a financial contribution that is twice the amount of what it received under the just-now expired Protocol
: an annual €80 million instead of €40 million. In return, Morocco is willing to offer larger fishing quota - something the EU, given its tough regulations to prevent overfishing, cannot accept blindly without more info on the quantities caught by other actors (Russia, etc).
The overwhelming majority of the affected vessels - 90 out of 126 - are Spanish. The Spanish Fisheries Confederation CEPESCA has already appealed to the Spanish Government for compensation to the affected fishermen
Most catches in Western Sahara are pelagic species, and thus also of interest to fleets from other EU countries, such as Lithuania, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland and Germany.
The EU and Morocco are expected to continue talks to renew their fisheries partnership.