Looking to the seas: Plans to triple fisheries output by 2020

With abundant maritime resources, more than 1800 km of coastline and a strong national fleet, Moroccan fisheries have considerable economic potential. The sector currently represents between 2% and 3% of GDP, and annual turnover neared Dh9bn (€800m) in 2012. The government has launched a development programme, Plan Halieutis, that aims to boost sector turnover to Dh21bn (€1.87bn) by 2020 by streamlining fisheries practices, strengthening infrastructure and expanding local processing industries.

GOOD CATCH: A total of 1.19m tonnes of fish and other seafood products were commercialised in 2012, a rise of 21% year-on-year (y-o-y). The value of the 2012 catch also grew by 2% to Dh5.56bn (€494.3m), according to year-end statistics from Morocco’s National Fisheries Office (l’Office National des Pêches, ONP). Three-quarters of the national catch, equalling 63% of its total value, came from commercial fishing operations on the Atlantic coast, and this segment saw a 25% increase in the catch volume y-o-y. Morocco is also one of the world’s largest producers of sardines; the sardine harvest was particularly strong in 2012, with a 29% increase in volume, and a 25% rise in value compared to 2011.

The vast majority of the annual catch, all but 26,645 tonnes in 2012, is fished off of the Atlantic coast. The port cities of Agadir and Tan Tan accounted for 5.5% and 11.5% of the total volume in 2012, respectively. Laâ y-oune and Dakhla, the two primary ports which hauled in 22.7% and 42.2% of the 2012 catch, respectively, are both located in the Moroccan/Western Sahara.

In general, the largest segment of the harvest goes toward fresh consumption, and the remainder is divided among various processing activities including freezing, canning and derivative products. The treatment of the 2012 catch remained relatively the same as in 2011, with slight increases in the percentage of the catch that went to fresh consumption and canning. Just over 38% of the catch was commercialised as fresh fish, up slightly from 37% in 2011. After this, 28.5% of the catch was commercialised as frozen fish, and 18.5% went to the production of fishmeal and fish oil. A further 13.3% was canned or otherwise preserved.

Seafood processing industries represent key economic activity, but the sector is only moderately diversified. The National Federation for Seafood Processing Industries (FENIP), a representative body for industrial groups in the sector, put forward a report in 2009 recommending 40 additional products that could potentially develop the industry. Local operators have been slow to move into new areas, however, and are currently focused on increasing the value of existing products.

According to a market analysis by FENIP, sector professionals are working to streamline factory practices, improve the cost efficiency and quality of packaging, and introduce product-tracking systems in an effort to increase product value and profit margins.

EXPORTS: Over 70% of fisheries GDP comes from exports, making foreign trade partners, mostly Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, a key source of sector income.

Plan Halieutis aims to raise local consumption of seafood products to 16 kg per capita by 2020, from between 10 kg and 12 kg in 2009, in an effort to develop the local market and reduce reliance on foreign buyers, particularly at a time of global economic uncertainty and weakened demand. However, exports will continue to be the main source of income, and the plan also aims to double fisheries exports to €2.35bn by 2020.

The kingdom currently provides roughly 3.3% of the global supply of seafood products, and authorities hope to raise this to 5.4% by 2020. The EU remains the largest importer of Moroccan seafood, but the government is looking to boost exports to Africa and Asia in order to protect against market fluctuation.

While fisheries exports dipped slightly from 2010 to 2011, due in part to decreased demand related to the economic situation in Europe and elsewhere, sector exports picked up considerably in 2012. Morocco’s agricultural exports declined across the board as a result of poor weather conditions during the 2011-12 season, but notable increases in exports of both fresh and processed seafood products helped to buoy the sector overall. Exports of canned and preserved fish rose 27.9% y-o-y for an additional income of Dh1.19bn (€105.8m), and exports of fresh fish grew by 17% for a further Dh287.1m (€25.5m). This influx helped to stabilise agricultural export levels for the year, which dipped just slightly from Dh28.64bn (€2.55bn) in 2011 to Dh28.46bn (€2.53bn) in 2012.

DEVELOPMENT PLANS: The strong yield in 2012 stands to aid sector progress on the goals under Plan Halieutis. In addition to boosting sector turnover to Dh21bn (€1.87bn) and exports to €2.35bn, the plan aims to increase the annual catch volume to 1.6m tonnes and to raise sector employment from roughly 62,000 to 115,000 by 2020. To reach these goals, the programme outlines 16 major projects in various segments.

In order to support growth in processing industries, the strategy provides for the formation of several national hubs to be located next to key fishing ports such as Agadir, Dakhla, Lâayoune and Tan Tan. The concentration of production and processing activities in this way should help to reduce costs, maximise the value of infrastructure, and ensure that producers have access to high-quality inputs across the board.

Several of the projects also aim to strengthen fisheries’ infrastructure, equipment and practices to boost productivity. On the infrastructure side, investments have been planned to equip fisheries with more advanced, efficient dockside equipment for unloading boats. Another modernisation goal is to equip all Moroccan vessels with some variety of refrigeration system. Today, just 23% of the national seafood harvest is hauled in by boats equipped with Refrigerated Sea Water systems, or holds for refrigerating or freezing fish immediately after the harvest. Boosting this number will help to improve product quality and value.

On the practices side, the ONP plans to introduce more effective price monitoring tools, which should help to stabilise prices for producers, encourage competition and limit the role of the informal sector. Plan Halieutis also provides for the implementation of quality control mechanisms, which are meant to provide a product guarantee and therefore boost both domestic and foreign sales, particularly for fresh fish.

Finally, Plan Halieutis includes an initiative to address continued concerns about overfishing. By 2020, sector authorities plan to implement four projects aimed at improving fishing practices. These include efforts to restructure fisheries to comply with sustainable prac-tices, an effort to conduct a resource inventory to pinpoint current stock levels, and the introduction of more effective fish stock monitoring systems. When the strategy was launched in 2009, around 5% of total species were confirmed to be fished in line with sustainable prac-tices. Other species may have been fished sustainably, but the oversight mechanisms were not in place to assess this at the time. By 2020, authorities aim for 95% of species in Morocco to be fished in a sustainable way.

FISHERIES AGREEMENTS: The increased volume of the 2012 catch was due in part to the absence of foreign fishing vessels that year. Moroccan fisheries is driven by its national fleet. However, 10 additional vessels from Russia and more than 100 from Europe, mainly from Spain, also ply the coast under two bilateral fisheries agreements, both of which expired in 2012 and were not immediately renewed.

Under Morocco’s Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) with the EU, which entered into effect in February 2007, a maximum of 119 European vessels were authorised to fish off of its coast. The protocol permitted fishing opportunities in six categories, including small-scale pelagic fishing in the north, of which sardines were a key component; small-scale fishing in both the north and south; demersal and tuna fishing; as well as industrial pelagic fishing, the latter of which was capped at 60,000 tonnes per year.

In exchange for these rights, the EU paid an annual fee of €36.1m, of which €13.5m was used to support Morocco’s programmes to develop and promote sustainable fisheries practices. In addition, European ship owners were responsible for paying fees between €25 and €60 per tonne caught, depending on the species of fish. Discussions were ongoing in 2011 to develop a new protocol but were unsuccessful. The FPA expired in February 2012 and no European fishing vessels were permitted to operate for the rest of the year.

The main concern in the talks was the cost effectiveness for both Moroccan and European operators. The fees paid to Morocco under the FPA were the second highest out of all EU fisheries agreement, and yet, many of the fishing opportunities outlined in the agreement were not exercised, meaning that the return on the EU’s investment was low. A September 2011 report by the EU fisheries rapporteur indicated that European fleets produced an average annual turnover of €30.2m, a return of only €0.83 for each euro invested.

According the same report, the FPA also failed to meet its goal of contributing to the development of the Moroccan fisheries sector. While high, the fees contributed by the EU do not have a macroeconomic effect on the national budget. The discussions also raised concerns of overfishing and the extent to which financial support should be channelled to the Moroccan/Western Sahara, where most fishing takes place.

The absence of EU vessels did not slow down the performance of the sector in 2012, but it does present a wrinkle for growing economic integration and trade between Morocco and the EU. However, the report notes that while the previous agreement was not fruitful, a future partnership might be mutually beneficial and provide technical support to the development of Morocco’s fisheries sector. Negotiators have yet to reach common ground on the amount of fees to be paid, with a fifth round of negotiations held in Rabat in midFebruary 2013 ending without an agreement.

Similarly, Morocco’s agreement with Russia was allowed to expire in June 2012 due to a disagreement over fees. However, a new protocol was signed on December 10, 2012, that will permit 10 Russian vessels to fish in Moroccan waters for another four years. As per reports by the national press agency, the new accord doubles the amount of annual fees and increased the fees based on catch tonnage by an additional 40%.

AQUACULTURE: To boost sector production and revenue levels without putting a strain on fish stocks, the development of aquaculture is seen as a top priority under Plan Halieutis. Fish farming remains marginal, with under 1000 tonnes produced in 2011, and is restrained by land availability, expensive start-up costs and dependence on export markets. Even so, the government has high hopes for the segment. Plan Halieutis has set a goal of raising annual production to 200,000 tonnes by 2020 for a turnover of Dh5bn (€444.5m).

The National Agency for the Development of Aquaculture (l’Agence Nationale pour le Développement de l’Aquaculture, ANDA), working with the National Institute for Halieutic Research, has identified an initial 260-ha zone for development, mainly along Morocco’s Mediterranean coast. In October 2012, ANDA launched a call to tender for the construction of nine aquaculture farms in this zone, which are expected to generate a total investment of Dh295m (€26.2m). The plots will be operated as concessions. Five zones of 20 ha each will be concentrated around Cap Mazari. The other four farms, each 40 ha, will be located around Cap Targha. Details regarding fiscal incentives have yet to be released by ANDA, which will allocate and set the terms for concessions, respectively.

At the plan’s launch in 2009, the ONP estimated that the informal segment accounted for more than 30% of the fisheries sector’s turnover. By 2020, officials aim to reduce the impact of the informal sector to under 15% of turnover. To this end, Plan Halieutis includes measures to restructure sector governance and put more of a regulatory role in the hands of local authorities. By decentralising governance, the state hopes to be better able to respond to overall sector needs by strengthening the connection with local practitioners, as well as to oversee the role of the informal sector.

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