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Morocco, Spain and Fishing



CASE NAME: Morocco, Spain and Fishing


1. Abstract

Morocco's ties to Europe date back to its days as a French and Spanish Protectorate and these ties today represent a very important part of Morocco's economic outlook. However, the relative harmonious relations have been disrupted on occasion. There have been disputes between Morocco and her former colonizers. Most recently, Morocco expressed her concerns with European Union fishing in her waters which created a contentious dispute with the EU and specifically Spain. As the debate proved, fishing is a key issue between the Government of Morocco and the European Union. Traditionally, Morocco has entered into fishery agreements with Spain bilaterally, and since its accession to the EU, with that body. The agreements have stipulated catch limits for EU fishermen, and granted compensation for Morocco. In 1992, and after, this traditional agreement became the source of problems between Morocco and the EU, with the greatest impact upon Spain. This "fish war" with Spain and the EU made daily headlines in Morocco.

2. Description

Moroccan Fishing Industry

As the only North African country without oil, Morocco has had to make the most of its other advantages. The ocean off Morocco's Atlantic coast is one of the richest fishing grounds in the world. (1) All together, Morocco's coast line covers 2,141 miles along the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. Fishing has been a major industry in Morocco since the 1930's and the industry experienced tremendous growth during the 1980's. Since 1983, the annual catch has exceeded 430,000 tons. In 1986 and 1991 landings were the largest ever; both were more than 594,000 tons. These record catches demonstrate the increased maturity of the Moroccan fishing industry, which now accounts for approximately 45% of agricultural exports. In 1990, exports of fish and fish products were equivalent to 8% of total exports. Over 100,000 Moroccans are employed in the fishing industry. The industry's importance is underscored in both the employment sector and by the over $600 million of foreign exchange that is reaped from the industry each year.

The fishing industry is comprised of two distinct sectors: the costal fishery and the high seas. Moroccan coastal fishery is made up of primarily smaller, wooden boats. These boats catch mainly low-priced fish including sardines, mackerel and anchovies. Morocco's boats are older, poorly managed and lack technical equipment such as fish finding gear. Therefore, the boats engaged in this fishing only stay out at sea for up to three days. Due to their lack of technical accoutrement, specifically coolers, they often times bring back damaged catches. The coastal fleet consists of approximately 2,609 vessels, of which 378 are trawlers equipped with mechanisms that assist with catching deep dwelling fish such as octopus and squid. This sector of the Moroccan fishing industry is facing stiff competition from more modern, better equipped, European boats, primarily from Spain.

Morocco's high seas fishing is somewhat more modern and consists of mainly steel boats equipped with freezing facilities, which allow them to stay out at sea longer. These boats are usually between 100 and 150 feet long and make about 5 trips, lasting 60 days, each year. There are currently 280 Moroccan registered high sea cephalopod operating trawlers. Catches by Morocco's high sea fishing fleet is smaller in tonnage than its coastal fishing fleet, but they account for the largest return in value since their catches are comprised mostly of high-priced cephalopods and white fish. These catches are usually exported immediately after arriving at Morcccan ports. Japan is the number one importer from Morocco of these catches.

In 1990, the Government of Morocco began a series of measures, including port improvement and financial incentives, that would increase a move by Moroccan fishing fleets to Moroccan ports. Before 1992, the majority of Morocco's high sea fleet was based in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands and its contribution to the Moroccan economy was limited. Thanks in part to the aforementioned measures, by 1992 all but one or two of Morocco's high sea fleet were based in Moroccan ports. The port city of Agadir is home to most of the fleet, while Tan Tan also maintains a number of boats. The relocation of the high sea fleet underscores the evolution of the Moroccan fishing industry and its development into a rival for Spain. Moreover, this development posited Morocco for confrontation with other fleets in her waters, which is exactly what occurred between Morocco and Spain.

Spanish Fishing Industry

Spain is the largest per capita seafood and products consumer in the EU. The Spanish fishing fleet is the largest within the EU and totals 18,900 vessels. 81,000 Spaniards work as sailors on fishing boats and over 500,000 other Spaniards work in the fish industry. In 1993, catches amounted to 1,162,963 tons. The Spanish fishing sector makes up just over 1% of the country's annual GDP.

The Spanish fishing fleet can be divided into three main groups based upon the area where the vessels fish. There are currently 16,750 boats fishing in Spanish waters. 1,100 boats fish in EU waters and 1,140 vessels in international and third country waters. The boats that fish in EU or international waters account for 65% of the Spanish catch. The Spanish reliance on fishing in waters outside of its own stems from a lack of a substantial, and well stocked, shelf existing within its own waters. It is important to note that of the Spanish boats fishing in third country waters, half of the vessels ply Mooraccan territorial waters.

Fishing Dispute Between Morocco, Spain and the EU

Moroccan disputes with Spain over fishing rights have gone on for many years. However, the issue became more contentious in the 1970's when countries began to declare Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). In 1973, Morocco declared a 70 mile coastal fishing limit. This was extended to 200 miles in 1981. At the same time, the EU declared a 200 mile fishing zone in 1977. All of these declarations caused the Spanish much trepidation and led to initiation of several bilateral agreements. Amongst these agreements was one with Morocco. Since its accession to the EU, Spain's relations with Morocco have been through EU parameters.

In 1988, Morocco signed a four year agreement with the EU which restricted EU vessels to a catch of 95,00 tons annually in Moroccan waters. In return, Morocco received licenses and fees and other financial assistance in a package worth ECU70 million per year. In 1992, this agreement was renewed for another four years. Under the renewed agreement, Morocco's compensation rose to ECU 102 million a year. The renewal of the agreement was not a simple process. In fact, it was only agreed upon after a temporary two month extension. This renewal process marked the beginning of a dispute between Morocco and the EU, primarily affecting Spain, over fishing.(2)

1992 Dispute

In 1992, a serious debate between Morocco and the EU arose. The central issue of the debate was Morocco's human rights record and an EU financial protocol package for 1992-1996. The EU hoped to leverage Morocco into human rights reforms by threatening to block the financial protocol. Morocco responded by threatening to cancel the Morocco/EU four year fishing agreement. This action caused Spain to assert itself within the EU. In 1991, King Juan Carlos of Spain visited Morocco and met with King Hassan in hopes of pushing the King to make better efforts at reforming human rights in Morocco. Continuation of the Morocco/EU fishing agreeement was crucial for Spain. Acording to Spanish officials, of the 736 European boats fishing in Moroccan waters in 1992, 650 were Spanish. Spanish officials claimed that if Morocco canceled the fishing agreement, 10,000 Spaniards would lose their jobs. Moreover, they argued that the non-renewal of the four year accord would threaten the livelihood of the Spanish fishing industry. The Spanish presented to the European Council documents that urged the EU to treat the Maghreb - Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya - in the same manner as it treated Eastern Europe.(3)

The dispute over the four year fishing accord was settled in May 1992. On May 15, Morocco agreed to a new, more lucrative four year deal. The Morocco/EU fishing agreement allowed 736 European boats into Moroccan waters in exchange for ECU102 million per year. Morocco also was permitted to charge fees to individual ship owners. A mid-term review was added and Morocco received ECU 9million for scientific research and training. The Government of Morocco was also allowed to impose a two month ban on coastal and high sea fishing. Another new feature allotted to Morocco in the renewed 1992 accord was the right to station up to two Moroccan observers aboard EU vessels. Morocco emerged from the 1992 dispute with the EU with much better terms. Moreover, the 1992 financial protocol was also renewed. The renewal of the Morocco/EU fishing agreement with significantly more lucrative terms for Morocco indicated a very important achievement for the country and ended the fishing dispute of 1992.

1995 Dispute

On April 30, 1995 the Government of Morocco suspended the access of EU boats to Moroccan waters. The suspension came a year before the agreement was to end. The Moroccan government said that the suspension was in order to preserve its fishery resources. Morocco claimed that they were concerned about overfishing in their waters and that the fish stocks were being seriously depleted due to heavy fishing by Spanish boats. The Moroccans were very worried about their fishing industry and the resources available to it.

As the Moroccans have increased their emphasis on the industry and it has matured, the rejection of access to their waters has become important. In fact, when asked what type of accord the Moroccans were seeking after they had rejected the four year agreement, Abd al-Latif Filali, Morocco's Prime Minister said that: "the best accord will be if there is no accord."(4) Morocco's fishing fleet by 1995 had grown considerably and accounted in 1994 for 11% of the country's GDP. Thus, the contentiousness of acces to fishing waters was apparent. The impasse continued for some months and by September the issue was still unresolved. However, by the fall, the Moroccan position had beome less defiant and the country began to fret about the implications of such discord upon the country's efforts to garner closer relations with the EU.

The basis for the disagreement arose over Moroccan demand for radical reductions in EU catch quotas. During the period, EU vessels were excluded from fishing in Moroccan waters. These boats were primarily from Spain and led to strong Spanish involvement in the negotiation process of a new Morocco/EU fishing agreement. Eventually, the new fishing agreement was linked to Morocco's Association Agreement, thereby pushing Morocco more towards a resolution of the fishing dispute.

In November, officials from Morocco, the EU and other Mediterranean states met in Barcelona for a Euro-Mediterranean conference. This conference allowed the governments to focus on the fishing conflict and in November they reached an accord that renewed the Morocco/EU fishing agreement. The new agreement was reached after both sides made concessions. Most importantly for Morocco, they received an assurance that satisfied their concern regarding overfishing. The central aspect of the renewed fishing agreement was the reduction of EU catch quotas by 40%.

Spain had also experienced a fishing conflict with Canada around the same time of the conflict that banned her ships from Moroccan waters. The resolution of both conflicts was not extremely favorable for Spain. Their fishing fleet had been experiencing problems and the resolution of the Moroccan and Canadian conflicts seriously reduced the fishing possibilities of the Spanish fleet. The figures reflect Spain's fishing trouble. In 1994 and 1995, Spain's total catch declined. Tangentially, Spanish consumers were faced with higher costs and less supply. These aspects have caused Spanish fish consumption per capita to decrease. The employment ramifications of the resolution of the Moroccan "fish war" will have to be addressed, especially in Southern Spain. In Southern Spain and the Canry Islands, over 25,00 people rely on the fishing industry around Moroccan waters for their livelihood. These results will have to be addressed by Spain's politicians. However, in 1996 Spain was fully integrated into the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, which should help to mitigate the loss of catch in Moroccan waters and its effects on the Spanish fishing industry.


Central to Morocco's blocking of EU boats, and their rejection a year early of the Morocco/EU fishing agreement, was their claim that fish stocks were being depleted and Moroccan waters were over-fished. The potential for over-fishing is a distinct environmental problem that Morocco hoped to alleviate through international affairs. Their method for approaching the problem created disputes with the EU and one of its member countries, Spain. Most fishermen and government officials agree that over-fishing in Moroccan waters is a major problem. The problem stems from high levels of permitted fishing and large amounts of poaching by foreign fleets in Moroccan waters.

For quite some time, the issue of overfishing has been at the center of conflict for the EU. With Morocco's actions forbidding EU boats from their waters, the issue became even more important, especially for Spain. Interestingly, within the EU, Britain also has expressed concerns with Spanish over-fishing. There is a substantial amount of empirical evidence that fishery research has provided in the past. Their efforts have led to the creation of a concept known as maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Essentially, fish stocks form potentially renewable resources which can be exploited at various levels. Problems arise when the MSY point is reached, while at the same time there are also increases in the fishing effort. This leads to a significant decrease in the level of sustainable yield and overfishing.(5)

3. Duration: In Progress (1992 - Present)

Although Morocco and Spain have experienced numerous disagreements over fishing rights in the past, not until 1992 was there a distinct conflict that brought international attention. In 1992 Morocco challenged the renewal of the Morocco/EU fishing agreement which directly impacted Spain. The issue resurfaced in 1995 as Morocco once again rejected the Morocco/EU fishing agreement and forbade EU boats from fishing in her waters. This caused over 600 Spanish boats to remain in port for months until the conflict was settled in November 1995. Therefore, the duration of each conflict was only a few months, but the potential for a continuation of the conflict was and is still present.

4. Location

a. Continent

Europe and North Africa

b. Region

Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean

c. State

Morocco and Spain

5. Actors: Morocco and Spain

II. Environment

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Species Loss Sea

The conflict between Morocco and Spain over fishing rights stemmed from Moroccan claims that Spanish boats were causing depletion of fish stocks in Moroccan waters. Morocco argued that Spanish overfishing was preventing Moroccans from benefitting from their own natural resource: the ocean off its coast. Therefore, the implication was that the Spanish were causing species loss. This was the distinct source problem of the conflict between Spain and Morocco. When a fishing territory becomes overfished, and the fishing effort continues, the fish stock further contracts and develops an unbalanced population which is dominated by the youngest age groups. Due to overfishing, a greater dependence on the younger fish class is created and thus the average size of the fish caught decreases. All of these factors further the chance of large fluctuations in stock size caused by natural effects. Basically, large year classes and small year classes have trouble balancing the fish population as it would occur normally in a fish population not subject to overfishing. A level of fishing effort can grow to a point where it causes a fish stock to become virutally extinct and non-existent as a viable commercial resource, illustrating species loss. This is the environmental impact that Morocco alluded to in its dispute with the EU and Spain over fishing rights in her waters. The environmental consequence of the dispute was a potential loss of a fish population due to overfishing.

7. Type of Habitat: Ocean

The site of this dispute is also the habitat of the species that were arguably being depleted: the ocean. This is an interesting aspect of the dispute. The Moroccans argued that Spanish fishing boats were overfishing in their waters and depleting the fish population. However, the size of the ocean makes the Moroccan argument less definitive. Moreover, it has been stated that sealing off a national fishing zone is an illusionary answer. The portion of the ocean that is carved out according to such an arrangement is erroneously believed to preclude it from international entanglements. This has been rejected through the example of the Moroccan and Spanish "fish war." With regards to overfishing, the assumption is even more off base. Fish are migratory and do not respect such boundaries. Therefore, the problem of overfishing is more than just Morocco's concern. The habitat of the dispute may be within Morocco's bounds, but the environmental problem which they claimed in the habitat is within the world's bounds.

8. Act and Harm Sites:

Site of Act Site of Harm Example
(4)Commons Morocco Over-fishing by Spain in Moroccan waters.

III. Conflict

9. Type of Conflict: Interstate

10. Level of Conflict: Warthreat

11. Fatality Level: 0

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: Direct

13. Level of Strategic Interest: Regional

The conflict directly stemmed from Spain's use of Moroccan waters for fishing. Beginning in 1992, and again in 1995, Morocco objected to the presence of Spanish boats. In 1995, the Government of Morocco claimed that Spanish boats were responsible for the depletion of the fish stock in Moroccan waters. The concern over a potential scarcity of fish led Morocco to revoke a four year agreement and necessitated rounds of negotiations. Eventually, a new agreement was reached and Morocco felt confident that the agreement would decrease overfishing by Spanish boats, thereby allowing Moroccan fishermen to work their own waters and not worry about the declining fish population.

14. Outcome of Dispute: Compromise

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE Cases






16. Relevant Websites and Literature

Blake, Gerald H. and Richard N. Schofield,eds., Boundaries and State Territory in the Middle East and North Africa, iddle East & North African Studies, Canbridgeshire, England, 1987.

Swearingen, Will D. and Abdellatif Bencherifa, eds., The North African Environment at Risk, Westview Press, Boulder, Colorado, 1996.

Swearingen, Will D., Moroccan Mirages: Agrarian Dreams and Deceptions 1912 - 1986, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1987.

Vandewalle, Dick, ed., North Africa: Development and Reform in a Changing Global Economy, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1996.

Wise, Mark, The Common Fisheries Policy of the European Community, Methuen, London, 1984.

Zwingle, Erla, "Morocco: North Africa's Timeless Mosaic," National Geographic, October 1996, pgs. 101-125.

________, Morocco: Country Profile,Economist Intelligence Unit, London, England, 1993.

________, Invest in Morocco: The Perfect Choice,United States-Morocco Council on Trade and Investment, Washington, DC, 1995.

________, "Morocco and the EU: More than Fish," The Economist, September 9, 1995, pg. 47-48.


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