12 / 1997
In November 1995 the European Union (EU)and Morocco signed a draft fisheries agreement, for four years. It is worth more than 500 million European Currency Unit (ECU). Emma Bonino, European Commissioner for Fisheries, is reported to have acknowledged that "Morocco also has the right to exploit its own fish resources. We (the EU)have been doing so for years, and they know it."
This new agreement between Morocco and the EU sets a precedent for linking development co-operation to fisheries agreements. Particularly noteworthy are two articles of the agreement which commit the EU to development co-operation activities with Morocco, and the establishment of a joint committee to oversee the implementation of the agreement.
About 24 per cent of the total value of the agreement is being allocated specifically to development co-operation activities. These include the development of seaside industries and port infrastructure, as well as marketing channels for fish products.
However, some critics claim that this fisheries agreement has been used as a bargaining chip by both EU and Moroccan negotiators to secure concessions in other areas. For example, as a direct consequence of the agreement, Moroccan oranges have received substantial cuts in import duties and levies imposed by the EU. This is likely to have serious trade distorting effects and is believed to be in contravention of rules framed by the World Trade Organisation.
Although the new agreement may be a step forward for EU-Moroccan fishery relations, there are some serious implications for the thousands of Spanish fishworkers dependent on the Moroccan fishing grounds.
The signing of this agreement was delayed by over six months, during which time the Moroccan fishing grounds were closed to EU fishing boats. The Spanish were the ones hit hardest by this, with hundreds of boats and thousands of fishworkers thrown out of work. Many fishermen in the Galician region experienced a prolonged period of forced unemployment. This created much tension in close-knit family groups: their only source of income had been cut off, and there was no certainty about when this would be restored.
There were also social tensions as Spanish fishworkers took to the streets, holding protest marches and demonstrations. The government used a heavy hand to stifle these protests, declaring them illegal. Fishworkers found themselves on the wrong side of the law. At the same time, they saw few alternatives. Afraid of the counter-measures that might be taken against them, the protesters often hid their identities behind masks and hoods. In an unprecedented action, the EU provided affected Spanish fishermen with a 40 million ECU compensation package.
Some of the elements of the agreement finally negotiated include: increases in the number of Moroccans employed as crew, equivalent to one per boat more than in the past; an increase in the licence fees by 5 per cent in each of the last three years of the agreement; and an average reduction in Gross Registered Tonnage by 23 per cent.
The agreement negotiated is largely regarded as unfavourable for the Spanish fleet. It will mean a considerable loss of work opportunities and the berthing of many boats. The consequence of this agreement will be a significant restructuring of the sector.
The EU has implemented some compensatory measures, such as fleet restructuring and compensation. The European Council approved support for the boats which had been laid off.
The apparent stability given by the agreement for over four years with no intermediate revision, is, however, a mitigating factor in the bleak future of the fishing fleet.
The Spanish fishery sector feels that it has had to suffer the consequences of having been used as a bargaining chip for other interests - to open up markets for fruit, vegetables and tinned sardines. They allege that these negotiations have demonstrated the weakness of the Spanish government, in the face of pressures exerted on the EU negotiators by other community countries.
A significant proportion of the Spanish population, especially in regions like Galicia, is dependent on fishing and related activities. The Spanish fleet has traditionally been fishing in distant fishing grounds. However, access to such fishing grounds and to fish resources is no longer easy, with the declaration of the Exclusive Economic Zone by nations, and with more and more fish stocks becoming commercially extinct. Spanish fishworkers are faced with tremendous uncertainty about their future. This was more than evident during the EU-Morocco negotiations, as thousands of fishworkers were rendered unemployed. It is becoming obvious that given the highly depleted state of fish resources, such instances are likely to become even more common in the future. It is highly unlikely that the Spanish fleet can maintain secure access to fish stocks. Given this reality, a long-term strategy has to be evolved and alternative means of livelihood for Spanish fishworkers have to be developed.
Articles and files
Through Spanish Eyes in. Samudra Report, 1996/03, 14; Christmas 1995 edition of Boga, published by Rosa Dos Ventos, based in Vigo in Galicia, north-west Spain