Polisario opens the door to Canary fishermen

The UN recognised representation of the people of Western Sahara is today meeting with Canary fishermen to explore continued fishing opportunities as the EU-Moroccan fisheries are coming to an end.

07 July 2023

Picture above: The fisheries in occupied Western Sahara is today largely taking place by a small scale Moroccan fleet. The image is from Dakhla port. Photo @ElliLorz

“We are at your disposal to find a legal framework for you so that you can continue with the activity. You are victims of an illegal agreement between Morocco and the EU,” Abdulah Arabi, Polisario representative in Spain, told Spanish newspaper El Independiente yesterday.

The Polisario Front, considered by the UN and the EU Court of Justice as the legitimate representative of the people of Western Sahara, is today holding a meeting with Canary Islands fishermen, with the offer to negotiate private licenses to fish in Western Sahara's waters. 

The meeting takes place only ten days before the fishing agreement between the European Union and Morocco is set to expire. The EU fisheries in the occupied territory was found illegal by the EU Court of Justice declared in September 2021. 

An appeal by the European Commission is pending, but not expected to change the Court's settled reasoning on Western Sahara, as it had already issued six rulings that have declared the application of EU-Morocco agreements in the territory null and void for failing to obtain the consent of the people of the territory.

The news of Polisario having conversations with the Spanish industry is confirmed by the liberation movement's lawyers, who have been battling the application of several EU-Morocco deals to Western Sahara for over a decade before the EU Courts. 

"It is clear that the European Commission cannot renegotiate the agreement but, at the same time, the Polisario does not want to harm the families of the fishermen and is willing to speak with the Spanish and European authorities but also with the fishermen themselves," Manuel Devers is quoted. 

“From the legal point of view, the fishing resources are Saharawi and the consent of the Saharawi people is needed and the only representative is the Polisario Front. There is the option of reaching an indirect agreement with the EU, between fishermen and the Polisario, based on private licences”, argues Devers.

Most of the EU's fishing under the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement has been carried out in occupied Western Sahara. Receiving the lion's share of the available fishing licenses under the deal, Spain is one of the EU Member States that advocates continued fishing in the colony it abandoned to Morocco's aggression in 1975. 

The EU Court of Justice first declared the EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement inapplicable to Western Sahara in 2018, ruling that Morocco had no sovereignty or administering mandate over the territory and that the people of Western Sahara had not consented to the deal being applied to their land. The EU Commission then entered into negotiations with Morocco - not the Saharawis - to include an amendment in the agreement that would explicitly include Western Sahara into its territorial scope. Saharawi objections were disregarded. The amended agreement came into force in July 2019, and is set to expire on 17 July 2023. The EU Court ruled the amended agreement to also be invalid in Western Sahara in September 2021, citing the same reasons as in 2018 and adding that consent ought to be obtained through the UN recognised representation of the people of the territory, the Polisario Front.


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