The Namibian-South African fisheries adventure in occupied Western Sahara was revealed shortly after it started operations in 2007. In a letter 18 July 2008, Western Sahara Resource Watch asked the Namibian fishing company Etosha Fishing Corp (Pty) Ltd to reconsider its plans in the territory.
"We urge you to immediately make contact with authorities of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic or with Saharawi human rights groups in occupied Western Sahara [...] in order to ascertain whether your activities are in accordance with their wishes and interests. If they are not, we urge you to immediately terminate your engagement in occupied Western Sahara", WSRW stated in a letter to Etosha's Managing Director.
However, the fisheries have continued in to 2010. In a news release from 6 July 2010, Oceana Group stated that "overall production at Etosha is expected to be higher for the year due to the canning of frozen fish from Morocco."
Etosha is 45% owned by the South African Oceana Group.
The firm operates two vessels in the waters offshore Dakhla, Western Sahara, the Iona and Morgenstern.
In its annual report for 2009, Oceana called the city of Dakhla as "Moroccan", and told it had a "fishing under licence in Morocco". No states in the world, however, have recognised the Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. The UN General Assembly urged Morocco "to join in the peace process and to terminate the occupation of the territory of Western Sahara" as it extended "the occupation to the territory recently evacuated by Mauritania", in a resolution when it entered the territory where the Namibian firm is today landing its catches.
Iona's catches in Western Sahara in 2009 was around 7000 tonnes, while Morgenstern, which was fishing last half of the year, caught around 2500 tonnes. Practically all the catch consisted of sardines - all of which was landed in Dakhla, occupied Western Sahara.
The cannery processed a total of 17 060 tons of fresh fish and 4 734 tons of frozen fish from Morocco for the year under review (2009: 21 382 tons), according to Oceana's operational report for the year ending 30 Sept 2010. The report was finalised 13 December 2010. According to the report, Etosha also processed frozen pilchard sourced from Morocco.
"Etosha landed its quota in full and also canned a significant volume of frozen fish imported from Morocco", the firm stated in a media release 11 Nov 2010.
According to Oceana's annual report 2009, "Etosha progressed its fishing operations in Morocco together with locally based business associates and will be processing frozen pilchard sourced from this area in the coming year".
From what WSRW now understands, Morgenstern could have started fishing in Western Sahara as early as 2006, not in 2007 as WSRW first reported.
Oceana's 2006 annual report stated the following: "Glenryck Foods, Oceana’s canned fish operation in the UK, recorded increased turnover mostly attributable to higher canned tuna sales volumes and prices. Various new product lines marketed under own brand and dealers brands have been successfully added to the range of canned fish products provided to the UK retail and catering markets over the past two years. The product range includes canned pilchard, tuna, salmon and mackerel. Most of Glenryck’s canned pilchard was sourced from Morocco due to the lack of production at Etosha whilst the company maintained various sources of supply for its tuna and other products. Glenryck’s profits increased in sterling and rand terms."
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.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.