An EU-Morocco fish pact would be ecologically unsustainable
Morocco is unable to manage the fish stocks of Western Sahara in a sustainable manner. Previous EU fisheries in Western Sahara has clearly shown the EU fleet's destruction of the territory's fish stocks.
As EU's controversial 2007-2010 fisheries agreement in Western Sahara was about to end, an independent evaluation commissioned by the Commission showed how the agreement was clearly damaging from an ecological perspective.
The Working group recommended a reduction of fishing activities to allow stocks to recover. The independent analysis of the EU-Morocco fish deal written for the European Commission also advises to decrease fishing of the over-affected fish reserves. A 2013 fisheries agreement would in other words place a heavy burden on an already fragile and over-fished eco-system offshore Western Sahara.
The ecological problems of previous EU fisheries have shown on numerous levels:
a) Continued EU fishing heightens the risk of extinction of already threatened marine animals
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers sharks, rays and skates to be in danger of extinction. No less than 70% of the total catches of the three Portuguese vessels active in Saharawi waters, consisted of sharks, rays and skates. That's well above 450 tonnes of endangered species. One single Spanish vessel fished about 60 tonnes of sharks and rays, equalling 30% of its total catches.
Since sharks, rays and skates are already in danger of extinction, continued fishing will have detrimental effects on all ongoing attempts of conservation. Three out of ten sharks captured by the EU fleet were of types that are considered 'vulnerable' by the IUCN, meaning that their population has already been reduced by 80%.
The evaluation study mentioned several reports of dolphin catches by pelagic trawlers in the zone between Boujdour and Cap Blanc. Investigations have also shown that turtles are regularly caught in fishnets. All turtle species living in Morocco and Western Sahara are considered in danger or in critical danger of extinction by the IUCN.
b) Bycatches and discards The video above shows recent practice of discards from vessel offshore Dakhla, Western Sahara.Bycatches and discards present a serious problem: caught animals thrown back are often already dead or have very little chance of survival. This affects the conservation of stocks.
During the first 2 years of the FPA, European vessels active below the 29°N were responsible for 1.225 tonnes of bycatches and 1.283 tonnes of discards. That is allegedly significantly less than the bycatches and discards by other, similar vessels.
c) EU money to eradicate Morocco's use of driftnets was not used The use of driftnets was banned by the United Nations General Assembly in the early nineties. But this destructive fishing technique is still being used by the Moroccan fleet. As an incentive to eradicate this practice, the EU pays Morocco an annual 1 million euro. The evaluation study shows that those funds for eradicating the use of driftnets had never been used by Morocco.
d) Pollution Oil wastage by vessels constitutes a serious form of degradation of the marine environment. The European fleet has contributed to this type of pollution in Saharawi waters, albeit to a lesser extent than commercial vessels sailing the same waters.
Other types of waste are equally problematic: as the ports in Western Sahara are not equipped with the necessary means to collect them, they are thrown into the Atlantic ocean.
The EU considers to pay Morocco to fish in occupied Western Sahara. An EU-Morocco Fisheries Agreement from 2013 would be both politically controversial and in violation of international law.
The international Fish Elsewhere! campaign demands the EU to avoid such unethical operations, and go fishing somewhere else. No fishing in Western Sahara should take place until the conflict is solved.