DAKHLA, Western Sahara – Representatives of the European fishing industry said on Friday that they fear a diplomatic crisis with Morocco if the current fisheries pact between the European Union and the North African nation is not renewed.
“I foresee a very serious diplomatic crisis between the European Union and Morocco,” the head of the European fishing industry association, Europeche, Javier Garat said, adding that Rabat would regard the lapse of the agreement “as an offense.”
Garat was referring to an impending ruling by the European Court of Justice on whether the pact applies to the coastal waters of the Western Sahara.
The EU does not recognize Morocco’s claims to sovereignty the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony. The political organization representing the region’s indigenous people, the Polisario Front, have proclaimed its independence as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.
During a meeting of fishing industry leaders from Spain, Netherlands, Latvia and Lithuania with Moroccan counterparts in the city of Dakhla, Garat said that Morocco could expel European fishing boats from all of the waters controlled by Rabat if the agreement were ended.
The ECJ’s advocate general, Melchior Wathelet said last month that the fishing accord was “not valid” for Western Sahara waters.
European boats annually harvest 83,000 tons of fish – worth 80 million euros ($99.52 million) – from waters claimed by Morocco, Garat said.
Garat and the others present for Friday’s gathering urged the court to said aside political considerations when making a decision on the fishing pact.
Pedro Maza, head of the group representing fishing operators in the Andalusia region of southern Spain, said that the end of the Morocco-EU agreement could create friction between Spanish and Moroccan boats fishing in the Straits of Gibraltar.