Fishing has historically been a key part of Morocco’s economy. The country boasts an exclusive economic zone of 1.1 sq km and a coastline of 3500 km. Plan Halieutis, the government’s strategy to develop the fisheries sector, was launched in 2009 and runs until 2020. The plan has three pillars: sustainability; performance, regarding the sector’s management and infrastructure development; and competitiveness.
Morocco benefits from favourable hydro-climatic conditions and a diverse marine ecosystem with more than 500 species, 60 of which can be fished. The sector is one of the leading sources of foreign exchange, accounting for 56% of agricultural exports and 16% of total exports. Additionally, fishing is responsible for 2.5% of GDP and 660,000 direct and indirect jobs.
The industry is set to undergo a series of changes as a result of a new fisheries agreement with the EU, which is set to reach its final approval stage in mid-February 2019. The EU is the leading export destination for Moroccan fish and fish products, with 64% of the market share.
The deal will extend the terms of a previous agreement signed in July 2018, in which the EU committed to increasing their payment to Morocco by 30% to allow them to fish in the country’s waters, from €40m per year to €52.2m. The terms of the deal also specify the access conditions for European trawlers, allowing 128 EU ships to fish in Moroccan waters. EU member states will be permitted to fish 100,000 tonnes per year of small pelagic fish, which live in the open ocean, an increase from 85,000 tonnes. The agreement also allows for European vessels to extract an additional 7000 tonnes per year of other types of fish. The number of boarding contracts for Moroccan sailors and fishermen aboard European fishing vessels will also increase.
The deal continues the compulsory landing volume – which requires European vessels to unload at a Moroccan port, as outlined in the previous agreement – but increases the penalty for non-compliance with landing regulations from 5% to 15%. New technical conditions have also been included to protect the marine environment, improve sustainability and combat overfishing.
The canned fish industry began to develop in Morocco in the 1930s, and by the 1950s had expanded to 200 factories, 39 of which are still in use. The fish canning plants are heavily concentrated in the Atlantic coast, particularly in the Safi and Agadir areas. The average capacity of the plants is 40 tonnes per day, although it can reach as high as 70 tonnes per day in the southern ports. Approximately 70% of all caught fish are processed, of which 85% are exported to hundreds of countries around the world. As international markets increase their demand for Moroccan fish products, investments must be focused on improving storage and logistics, as well as modernising the industrial fleet, to support the sector as it continues to expand.
The government’s current agricultural strategy aims to triple the fisheries segment’s economic contribution from Dh8.3bn (€747m) in 2007 to Dh22bn (€2bn) by 2020. To achieve this, production needs to be increased – the goal is to produce 1.6m tonnes by 2020, with a particular focus on developing aquaculture. “The Atlantic coast holds great potential for aquaculture. There is significant interest from entrepreneurs to set up oyster farms in the area of Dakhla, with over 100 projects in progress. Clam farming is also a profitable segment – Morocco aims to produce 1000 tonnes of clams, with a view to exporting to Europe,” Majida Maarouf, general manager of the Aquaculture Development Agency, told OBG.
However, some challenges still remain. Illegal fishing will need to be deterred in order to ensure the country can fully benefit from its valuable marine ecosystem. Additionally, Morocco needs to look beyond the EU and diversify its export markets to encourage new agreements and strategic partnerships with the rest of the world. To this end, the government aims to increase the global market share from 3.3% to 5.3% by 2020.
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