Morocco spends most of EU's fish support in occupied land

Most of the EU's financial support to Morocco under the EU-Morocco fisheries agreement has been spent on occupied land, new government report reveals. 

25 February 2021

Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) has got access to a recent report written by the Moroccan government, documenting how it has spent money that it has received from the EU as part of their current fisheries partnership agreement.

The report shows that the absolute lion’s share of the EU's funding from July 2019 to October 2020 was not spent in Morocco proper, but in the part of Western Sahara that Morocco holds under illegal military occupation. WSRW's detailed analysis of the report reveals that out of €45,35 million given from the EU to Morocco, at least €35 million (over 77%) has been spent in occupied Western Sahara. It is certain, however, that the exact amount is even higher: several projects funded by the EU are carried out partly in Morocco and partly in Western Sahara, but the report provided by the Moroccan government does not allow to determine to what extent these split projects were carried out at which location. As such, Morocco is spending most of the money accrued through its fish deal with the EU on developing its fish sector and on infrastructure projects in a territory over which it has no legal title.

The EU-Morocco Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) entered into force on 18 July 2019. It is implemented through a Protocol, detailing the technical aspects to the agreement for a period of four years. The current Protocol thus runs until 17 July 2023.

In return for the opportunity to fish in the Moroccan ‘fishing zone’, the EU has agreed to remunerate Morocco on an annual basis, with the added condition that Morocco is to annually report on how it spent that money.

In December 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that since Western Sahara has a "separate and distinct" status to Morocco, no EU Trade or Association Agreement with Morocco can be applied to the territory. The only way for any such agreement to lawfully affect Western Sahara, is through obtaining the explicit consent of the people of the territory. In 2018, the Court struck down the application of the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement in Western Sahara over the same reasons. But the EU ignored the Court's rulings and opened negotiations with Morocco to modify both its trade deal and its fisheries agreement so that they will incorporate Western Sahara. The people of Western Sahara were not included in the entire process, and their objections to having their land included in the agreements were disregarded. Adding insult to injury, instead of trying to obtain the Saharawi people's consent to continue, the EU Commission misled the Parliament and Council by presenting false claims on the Saharawi people's opinions. The entire process has been documented in WSRW's report Above The Law, published in December 2020.

Not only do the people of Western Sahara object to having their land included - against their will - in the EU-Morocco fish deal. They're not even reaping the potential benefits. Saharawis are traditionally not a fishing people. The fish sector in the territory was developed under the Spanish colonisation and taken over by Morocco after its invasion in 1975. To date there are but few Saharawis employed in the fish sector. They have often protested against the exclusion and marginalisation they face in the job market in favour of Moroccan settlers. Cables by US diplomats leaked in 2010 revealed that the fishing industry in Western Sahara was controlled by generals of the Moroccan army. This was corroborated by independent Moroccan media, which in 2012 published a list of the principle possessors of fishing licences.

The EU has funded Moroccan construction of storage spaces for fishermen in occupied Western Sahara, mostly used by Moroccan settlers. The photo is from Morocco's expenditure report to the EU in relation to the Union's 2019-2020 financial support. 

Morocco's report on its expenditure of EU funds illustrates the union's diametrically opposite approach to the annexed territories of Palestine, Crimea and Western Sahara. The part of the funding going to the occupied territory seems even to have increased since the previous partnership agreement.  

The Moroccan report can be downloaded here. 

For the first operative year of the Protocol – from July 2019 to October 2020 (adding three months to accommodate for COVID19), €45,35 million was paid to Morocco. That money was not one single sum but was divided across three categories.

  • The EU paid Morocco €19,1 million for access to fish in the ‘fishing zone’;
  • In addition, the EU operators that have fished under the agreement, have paid €8,7 million in fees to Morocco.
  • Finally, the EU paid Morocco €17,55 million as sectoral support: money that is specifically earmarked to develop Morocco’s fishing sector.

There are conditions as to how Morocco can spend that money. 

  • The €17,55 million sectoral support has to be spent on projects to develop Morocco’s fishing sector.
  • The other two categories combined - a total of €27,8 million in EU money for access and the operators’ fees - has to be spent by Morocco on projects that are to the socio-economic benefit of the ‘concerned populations’ - those living in the areas where fishing takes place.

Our research now reveals that Morocco spent most of the sectoral support on developing the fish sector in occupied Western Sahara and practically all of the financial compensation for access on infrastructural projects in the territory.

Nearly half of the sectoral support was spent on projects implemented exclusively in Western Sahara, with an additional 16% spent on projects that are carried out in part in Western Sahara, and another 20% on projects that are probably also carried out - at least in part - in Western Sahara. Only 16,7% of the sectoral support was spent on projects that were fully implemented in Morocco proper. The support is described in the Moroccan document's pages 1 to 76, and is analysed by us in the yellow box below.

Morocco's use of the financial compensation for access and the operators' fees is even more astonishing. Only 4% was spent on projects in Morocco. An astounding 96% was poured into - mainly - infrastructural work in the territory it holds under occupation. As the money has to be spent in accordance with the locations of EU fishing activities, this is the clearest admission possible of where the EU is actually fishing through its fish agreement with Morocco: in the waters of the territory which, according the EU's highest Court, is separate and distinct from Morocco.

"The EU's massive funding of the expansion of the Moroccan fisheries sector, owned and staffed by Moroccans, in the occupied territory of Western Sahara has to stop immediately. It constitutes blatant complicity in the acquisition of territory by force and in a dramatic process of demographic engineering. These are serious crimes under international law. The European support to Morocco's settler enterprise in Western Sahara must end", says Member of the European Parliament Thomas Waitz (Austria, Greens/EFA).

More details on what the access money (point 1) and the sectoral support (point 2) were spent on, are included below. 

1. 96% of the EU's financial compensation was spent on infrastructure in occupied Western Sahara

The report that Morocco has provided to the EU Commission contains only 5 pages (document's pages 84 to 89), added as an annex, on the “geographical and social division of the financial compensation in relation to access to the fishing zone and to the fees paid by the operators”.

“The two parties have agreed that the instalments will be distributed geographically in accordance with the activities of EU vessels in each of the six fishing categories”, the report states. Under the Protocol to the SFPA, there are indeed six different fishing categories that correspond to different geographical areas. During the first year of the Protocol, “EU vessels mainly frequented the areas of category 6 (industrial pelagic fishing)”, the report says. Category six geographically corresponds to occupied Western Sahara.

The report reads that out of the €27,8 million, “at least 26,6 million” was spent “in the regions of Dakhla-Oued Eddahab and Laayoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra”. Note that for Morocco, Western Sahara does not exist, and is thus referred to as either the ‘southern provinces’ or through the illegally imposed administrative division of these two regions. 

The report includes a table listing the specific projects and the amounts spent on each of them. While €1,14 million was spent on projects in the Tanger-Tetouan-Al Hoceima region of Morocco proper, the remainder went to projects in Western Sahara: €17,08 million to Dakhla-Oued Eddahab and €9,57 million to Laayoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra. 

The table below includes the projects carried out in Western Sahara with funding obtained from the EU's access compensation and the operators fees. 

2. Most of the sectoral support went to developing the fish sector in occupied Western Sahara

In addition, the report shows how Morocco spent the EU funding that was specifically earmarked for the development of its national fish sector, the so-called sectoral support. Contrary to the 5 pages documenting how the access and operator fees were spent, the report is a bit more detailed as to how the sectoral support was spent. For each of the 31 projects that were started on during the first operative year of the Protocol, there is a short description, and an estimate of the degree of implementation. The Moroccan government must first present the projects it would consider eligible for EU sectoral support; the EU Commission then needs to expressly agree to fund these projects in arrears. Once granted EU approval, Morocco can proceed with the implementation of the projects, and the EU reimburses one year down the line, in accordance with progress made. 

The report makes no mention of Western Sahara. But the figures can be deduced from examining the more precise location of the projects listed by Morocco as being funded as part of the agreement. 

As compared to reports submitted under the previous EU-Morocco fisheries Protocol (2014-2018), this report is thus much murkier in terms of specifying locations. In the previous reports, projects were listed per Moroccan administrative region, making it more or less clear whether a project was implemented in Western Sahara or not: 2 of the 12 regions are located entirely in occupied Western Sahara; ‘Laayoune – Saguia El Hamra’ and ‘Dakhla – Oued Eddahab’. The administrative region ‘Guelmim – Oued Noun’, which overlaps the border between Western Sahara and Morocco, is not seen as relevant for fisheries related activities relevant for our assesment, as the boder overlap is in inland, and not by the coast. 

For most projects, a specific location is mentioned. However, five of the listed projects do not specify the location of implementation or are too vague. As such, WSRW has below included a short description of the projects that were fully, partly or probably implemented in Western Sahara. 




A.1 Construction of a ‘new generation’ fish hall in the fishermen’s village of Lamhiriz

Lamhiriz is located about 320 kilometers south of the town of Dakhla, occupied Western Sahara. The Moroccan government installed a fishermen’s village in the town in 2009. In 2019, the fishermen’s town produced 5,694 tonnes of fish, primarily cephalopods, white fish species and crustaceans. The Moroccan government now wants to market the production of the fishermen’s village and to that purpose ONP has already set up a programme to construct 11 fish halls to the tune of 450 million Dirham (roughly €42,3 million).

Through the EU’s sectoral support, one fish hall will be constructed at the port of Lamhiriz with the following objectives:

  • Preserve the quality of the fish products transiting the hall;
  • Organise the flux of products and people in the hall;
  • Increase the volume of fish products for commercialisation;
  • Improve the value of landed products.

The hall will include a refrigerated sales space, space for receipt and shipment of products, cool storage, veterinary lab, administrative and technical rooms, parking area.

The hall will cost €1,38 million of which €80,000 have been used in the first year of the Protocol.

Under the previous Protocol, the EU already financed the provision of solar energy with a price tag of €544,000. 


  1. A.2. Construction and equipping of a pilot unit for treatment and valuation of seafood in El Aaiun

The unit will be built on a terrain of 560 m² in the Institute for Maritime Fishery Technology in El Aaiun. The unit will be equipped with the necessary material for practical workshops. The project also includes the upgrading and elaboration of training programmes for fishmongers, processing unit workers, aquaculture workers, maintenance operator.

For the first year of the Protocol, €306,453 is spent on the project, corresponding to 4% of the total project.


  1. A.3. Obtaining standardized containers

Morocco’s Department of Maritime Fisheries has launched a programme, “Standardized Containers”, to encourage the use of plastic in the ports in order to remedy two major flaws: the use of wooden containers for the marketing of fish and the low use of ice. The programme will offer operators in the fish industry 6 million containers, and will provide for the installation of 27 automated washing tunnels and management units in the fish ports. It comes at a price of 400 million Dirham, around €40 million.

Through sectoral support under the EU-Morocco Fish Protocol, the EU will fund 675,000 containers for the ports of Dakhla, Boujdour and El Aaiun – all in occupied Western Sahara. The entire project will cost €2,87 million, of which €1,06 million has been granted for the first year of the Protocol.


  1. A.4. Support for aquaculture projects of young contractors in the Dakhla-Oued Eddahab region

ANDA has selected 507 youngsters from the region, and has grouped them in 100 groups for their training in the theory and practice of aquaculture. These groups will install their farms on plots that have been reserved for this purpose. 

The EU funding will be used to provide the necessary equipment (nets, boats…), and administrative and technical assistance.

During the first year, 56 projects have been realised:

  • 25 aquaculture projects in Lassarga;
  • 31 shellfish farming projects in Tinighir (9 on mussels and 22 on oysters)
  • Acquiring barges

The project envisions the production of 5,850 tonnes of shellfish and 6,400 tonnes of algue. The EU will provide €5,31 million for the project. Morocco has applied for €3,02 million to be paid for the first year.


A.5. Acquire radio beacons to indicate positions of emergencies of the artisanal fleet

The Moroccan Fisheries Department envisions to equip artisanal boats with a Cospas-Sarsat system of radio beacons in order to localise them in case of emergency. This along the ‘the entire Moroccan littoral’. EU sectoral support will specifically be used for to equip the boats operating in the ‘Atlantic South, specifically in the regions of El Aaiun, Boujdour and Dakhla’ – so in Western Sahara.

The entire project will require an investment of €3,27 million, which has been spent in its entirety in the first year of the Protocol.

However, since the necessary equipment was awarded for €1,95 million, the remainder has been spent on the purchase of life-jackets for fishermen operating in the above-mentioned areas.


A.6. Experimentation with offshore aquaculture farms in the Atlantic South

The project aims to determine the pro’s and con’s of establishing an offshore aquacultural farm. The project consist of:

  • An oceanographic study
  • Conceptualisation and experimenting with offshore fish farms
  • A study on the economic potential

The project is slated to require an investment of €3,69 million, of which 580,000 was paid during the first year of the Protocol.


A.7. Develop better understanding of trophic networks and chemical contaminations in Moroccan marine eco-systems

The project aims to improve the understanding of the trophic network of the marine eco-system of the ‘Moroccan southern Atlantic zone’, which in reality is the waters off occupied Western Sahara. Another component of the project is to improve knowledge at INRH on the transfer and accumulation processes pertaining to chemical contaminations, particularly in trophic eco-systems.

A total of €920,000 will be spent on human resources and analytical equipment. During the first year of the Protocol, €70,000 has been spent to that purpose.




B.1. Supplying Fishermen Villages and landing points with renewable energy

The report claims Morocco at present has 47 fishermen villages and landing points, with an addition three being planned. A sizeable portion thereof is of course located in occupied Western Sahara.

Under the sectoral support of the EU-Morocco FPA, 8 of these villages will be equipped with solar panels in order to supply the necessary electricity for the fish halls. The project will be carried out in two phases: the first one on three sites in Morocco proper and one in Western Sahara (Lakraa), the second phase on four sites in occupied Western Sahara (N’tireft, Imoutlane, Labouirda and Ain Baida).

The total price tag for the two phases is €1,65 million, of which €110,000 has been freed up for the first year of the Protocol.


B.2. Obtain material for collecting algae in 3 landing points

Morocco exploits algue with a view to exporting agar agar. Algae are primarily exploited in the area from Tarfaya (all the way in the south of Morocco proper) to the south of El Aaiun in Western Sahara. The natural stocks of algae are harvested in two ways: picking up algae on a tidal swing is used in ‘the south’, thus in Western Sahara, while in the El Jadida (in Morocco proper) algae are picked manually while scuba-diving.

The EU sectoral support will be used to support cooperatives that collect algae on the sites of Lahdida and Sidi Abed (in Morocco proper) and in Amégriou (near El Aaiun, Western Sahara). The purpose is the better marketing of algae. The funding is used to purchase material for collecting algae, and for the purpose of training and informing the ‘targeted population’ about techniques to collect, add value to, and market algae.

The entire project costs €70,000 of which €50,000 has been spent in the first year.


B.3. Scientific exploration campaigns at sea

The project envisions halieutic, oceanographic and bathymetric surveys, encompassing the actual surveying at sea, maintenance and reinforcing scientific material, development of methodology.

The project comes with a price tag of €3,69 million, of which €660,000 was spent during the first year of the Protocol. 

Seven campaigns have been undertaken in that first year aboard the research vessels Charif Al Idrissi and Al Amir Moulay Abdellah

While the project description does not include a specific location that is subject to the surveying, WSRW has observed both research vessels undertaking extensive research along the coast of occupied Western Sahara from the very north to the very south during 2019 and 2020. On some occasions, the vessels also docked at port. Charif Al Idrissi's reported calls can be downloaded here and Al Amir Moulay Abdellah's calls can be downloaded here.

B.4. Acquire coastal research boat for every port of the Moroccan littoral

The vessel has the purpose of improving INRH’s means of navigation, and specifically, its means for prospection of coastal and coastal fringes, allowing it to undertake research, oceanography, etc. The vessel will be able to reach “every port along the Moroccan littoral”. As Morocco interprets itself as including Western Sahara, the ports of Western Sahara will be included in that statement.

The entire project will cost €3,13 million. During the first year of the Protocol, €330,000 was spent.


B.5. Improve surveillance network of INRH with marine biotoxin units. (3 out of 5 machines for Dakhla)

The EU Food and Veterinary Office demands that a surveillance system is put in place, based on the chemical methods of lipophile toxins LSP (Lipophilics Shellfish Poisoning), ASP (Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning) and PSP (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning).

Morocco will use EU sectoral support to develop the analytical capacity of laboratories focussed on the marine environment through training and providing scientific material for 3 centres. Dakhla in Western Sahara is accorded 3 pieces of equipment, while Agadir and Tanger in Morocco proper receive one each.

The project will cost €840,000, of which €590,000 was used up in the first year of the Protocol.


B.6. Identify and follow-up of rocky areas in Marine Protected Areas 

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are geographically distinct zones for which protection objectives are set. The protection is installed through local, regional or international law.

The project to be funded by the EU consists of developing a network of observation and follow-up of the rocky areas in MPAs per boat and diving for submarine observation. It comes at a total cost of €460,000 of which €70,000 was programmed for the first year.

The maps included in the report mainly depict the rocky areas in Western Sahara, and smaller areas in Sidi Ifni in the south of Morocco. The text explains that prospection has been carried out in Sidi Ifni and that a feasibility study us being carried out to install an MPA in Sid El Ghazi, which is in the occupied territory.


B.7. Support for socio-professional associations active in maritime fishing 

Under the previous 2014-2018 Protocol, associations grouping together maritime professionals also received financial backing through EU sectoral support, to the tune of €2,01 million. This time, Morocco has applied for €2,77 million for 10 such organisations, with the objective of allowing them to network, exchange practices and support their activities. 

The 10 associations receiving support are:

  • Chambre des pêches maritimes de la Méditerranée
  • Chambre des pêches maritimes de l’Atlantique Nord
  • Chambre des pêches maritimes de l’Atlantique Centre
  • Chambre des pêches maritimes de l’Atlantique Sud
  • Fédération des Chambres Maritimes
  • Confédération marocaine de la pêche côtière
  • Confédération nationale de la pêche côtière
  • Confédération nationale de la pêche artisanale
  • Coopérative de la pêche artisanale Aftas Tamghart
  • Coopérative Attadamoune de la pêche artisanale

During the first year of the Protocol, €520,000 was accorded to this project.


B.8. Purchase 18 control vehicles 

18 vehicles – SUVs and sedans – will be deployed at sites with heavy fishery activity and that as such need more control of and follow-up of the fisheries activities in order to combat IUU fishing (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing).

Ten out of the 18 vehicles will be used on 10 sites in Morocco proper. There is a bitter irony that EU sectoral support is used to finance 8 vehicles to allow Morocco to combat IUU fishing on 8 sites in occupied Western Sahara – perhaps home of the pinnacle of IUU fishing, carried out by both Morocco and the EU themselves.

The project has cost €420,000 - a sum entirely used up during the first year of the Protocol.




C.1. Capacity building for rescue at sea (3 maritime radiocommunication stations)

The project consists of obtaining equipment to receive and process alerts from vessels in distress in the coastal zone, within 30 nautical miles from the coast. The equipment will also be used for the dissemination of maritime weather forecasts and information on maritime safety.

The project is estimated to cost €470,000, and half of that amount – €240,000 - will be granted for the first year of the Protocol.


C.2. Acquiring 25 tractors and lifting gear for 20 landing points.

Morocco wants to further develop the artisanal fishing sector. The use of tractors would somewhat make up for the lack of port infrastructure at landing points. Once obtained, the tractors and lifting gear would be given to cooperatives of artisanal fishermen on 20 sites.

Though the sites are not specified, it is reasonable – given the size of the artisanal fishing sector in Western Sahara – that some landing points in the territory are included.

The entire project would cost €940,000, and Morocco has applied for €660,000 to be transferred during the first year of the Protocol.


C.3. Engines for 1037 artisanal fishing boats in 17 fishermen villages and landing points

Again, within the framework of boosting artisanal fishing practices, Morocco wants to spend €1,96 million to put motor engines on artisanal boats. 

For the first year of the Protocol, €1,37 million has been spent.

It is worth noting that the artisanal fishing sector in Western Sahara is much larger than that in Morocco proper, according to figures provided by the Moroccan government.


C.4. Upgrade research vessel Al Hassani for scientific research and training

The vessel Al Hassani was given to Morocco in 1994 by the Japanese government. 

With EU sectoral support, Morocco now aims to upgrade the vessel and turn it into a multivalent vessel that can carry out scientific research, train officers and researchers, technical staff for the maritime sector and PhD students. 

Concretely, the funding is used to:

  • refurbish and adapt the vessel to carry out scientific campaigns;
  • general overhaul of the ship which will affect all of its structures, equipment and gear;
  • layout of laboratories, study rooms and ship premises;
  • equip vessel with necessary material (scientific, prospection, navigation, etc)

The entire overhaul of the vessel will cost €3,22 million of which €460,000 was spent during the first year of the Protocol.


C.5. Deploy video surveillance on the sites managed by ONP (National Office of Fisheries)

The aim is to deploy 374 camera’s over 40 sites, in order to supervise movements of people and products within the premises. The total cost of the project is €1,12 million, of which €790,000 has been spent during the first year of the Protocol.

Though the project description mentions 40 sites, only 23 are mentioned by name. Those are all in Morocco proper. It is thus not clear where the remaining 17 sites are: also in Morocco, or in occupied Western Sahara. 


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