Photo: Russian 120 meter long, 1991-built trawler Kapitan Bogomolov bunkering at Las Palmas harbour, 2007, in between its fishing trips to Western Sahara waters. Russian fleet has been fishing off the coast of Western Sahara for many years.
A memorandum for a fisheries accord between Russia and Morocco was signed on 10 December 2012, with a duration of four years. The controversial new agreement will allow 10 Russian trawlers to resume fishing - most probably in occupied Western Sahara. In return, the Russian ship-owners are to pay a financial compensation, twice the amount as under the previous deal. Charges on catches have also been raised by 40%. The information about the new agreement was published by the Moroccan state news service MAP.
The text was signed in the Moroccan capital city Rabat. Holding the pen were Moroccan Minister for Fisheries, Aziz Akhannouch and Vasily Sokolov, vice-President of the Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries (Rosrybolovstvo).
WSRW published in June 2010 the story about the signing of the former fisheries agreement between the two governments. That agreement had expired on 2 June 2012, according to MAP. WSRW also published two years ago an unofficial English translation of the complete agreement. The former agreement was designed to allow Russian fleet fish in the "Exclusive Economic Zone" of Morocco, but it was still applied offshore Western Sahara- which is not part of Morocco's EEZ. Morocco has not even laid claim to the waters offshore the territory. It would not even be able to do so under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which it became a member state in 2007. It is not yet known how the territorial scope of the new Russia-Morocco fisheries agreement has been defined.
Parts of Western Sahara, including the coast, have been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975/1979, under UN condemnation. Morocco's claims to the territory have been rejected by the International court of justice.
According to Izvestia newspaper, the Russian Federal Agency for Fisheries published a report just last week, highlighting the importance of West Africa’s waters for the Russian fleet. The report claims that the Russians have a particular interest for exclusive economic zones of countries such as Morocco, citing high profitability. Here, companies including the Murmansk Trawl Fleet and vessels from Kalinigrad catch pelagic species such as sardines, horse mackerel, sardinella and mackerel – species which can still be found in Saharawi waters, yet are close to extinction in Moroccan waters.
The text of the new Russia-Morocco deal, according to MAP, stipulates that the Russian vessels should carry a permanent staff of 16 Moroccan fishermen, as opposed to 14 under the terms of the previous agreement. A Moroccan scientific observer should also be permanently on board for monitoring the vessels’ activities at sea, according to the news service. In the past, there have been protests against the Russian fisheries by Saharawis in Dakhla. The Saharawis stated that the crews on the Russian vessels are only recruited in Morocco proper before the vessels arrived to Western Sahara.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.