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New report shows how EU seafood extractivism will continue its complicity in the colonial occupation of Western Sahara

New report shows how EU seafood extractivism will continue its complicity in the colonial occupation of Western Sahara

Canary Workers’ Co-op | 11th July 2023

By Hannah Sharland

An unlawful fisheries agreement is coming to an end, but a new report shows how the EU seafood industry will continue to be complicit in Morocco’s colonial occupation of Western Sahara. It’s doing this via importing octopus.

Octopus and occupation
In March, a Spanish seafood company’s plans for the world’s first octopus factory farm angered animal rights groups and scientists alike. However, a new report has shown why the exploitation of this highly intelligent species in the wild should be no less alarming.

On 10 July, environmental campaign group ClientEarth published the new report titled Tracing a line – do businesses know the real cost of seafood? In it, the group drew attention to the human rights and environmental impacts of EU seafood products. Specifically, the report looked at commodities which European nations import from three countries in the Global South.

Among the three case studies, ClientEarth highlighted the issues associated with the EU’s importing of octopus from Morocco.

The report detailed that Morocco is the EU’s largest supplier of frozen octopus. The North African nation exported over 40,000 tonnes of octopus to the EU, at a value of nearly half a billion euros.

Notably, ClientEarth pointed out how industrial trawlers and artisanal fleets catch octopuses in the waters off the coast of Dakhla, a key fishing hub in Western Sahara. Moroccan and European joint venture fleets regularly land their catch from Western Saharan waters in Moroccan ports. As a result, octopuses caught in Western Sahara are often sold to the EU, marked as a Moroccan product. The report therefore concluded that:

The activities of seafood companies, investors, and retailers, involved in the octopus trade from Western Sahara, could indirectly have an impact on various social, economic, and political rights of the Saharawi people.

Fisheries and free trade
Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara in 1975. Despite an International Court of Justice ruling declaring the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination, the kingdom has engaged in the settler colonisation of the territory ever since. Significantly, a fisheries protocol and a bilateral free trade agreement with the EU have been key instruments in this process.

Through the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement, the EU has paid for access to Morocco’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – an area of ocean extending from its coasts that falls under its national jurisdiction.

This deal has enabled 128 EU vessels from Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Netherlands, and Ireland to fish in Moroccan waters. Prior to Brexit, the arrangement also included the UK.

Separately, the European Association Agreement governs tariffs for the EU’s import of goods from Morocco.

Nullified agreement
In 2016, the European Court of Justice (EUCJ) invalidated the EU-Morocco trade agreement. It ruled that the deal should not cover the occupied territory of Western Sahara. Specifically, the trade agreements would require the express consent of the Polisario front, the UN-recognised political representative of the Saharawi people. A EUCJ ruling in 2018 also nullified the fisheries agreement for the same reason.

A 2020 report by Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) found that. in spite of the successive rulings by the EUCJ, the EU has continued to engage in trade and negotiations with Morocco for products originating from Western Sahara.

In 2019, the two trading parties brokered a new fisheries protocol and an amendment to the trade tariff agreement. Following this, the EUCJ annulled the deals in 2021. It once again found that the agreements had violated the rights of the occupied Saharawi peoples. Crucially, the deals should have consulted the Indigenous community, and should have sought consent over trade and activity in their territory.

Settler colonialism and the sea
The EU’s appetite for octopus is a core part of its continued disregard for these rulings. The Middle East Research Information Project (MERIP) has argued that the “proliferation of industrial octopus freezing facilities in Dakhla” has facilitated settler colonialism in the territory. Specifically, the expansion of the trade in octopuses:

“created an employment niche for the Moroccan settlers.”

Echoing this, Collective of Sahawari Human Rights Defenders in Western Sahara (CODESA) has also called out the fisheries and free trade agreements. It argued that the deals used “language reminiscent of the colonial era” to justify the prioritisation of Moroccan workers. The group has said this will hasten the process of settler occupation of the Western Sahara territory.

Evidencing this, MERIP noted that the industry has reversed the demographic of Western Sahara. The Saharawi population are now the minority in the region. Notably, it identified that:

The highest population growth in the Sahrawi cities occurred during the years when the fisheries sector emerged and developed, between 1994 when the first octopus freezing unit was built in Dakhla and 2004 when some 90 companies linked to octopus freezing were registered.

Moreover, EU funding has directly facilitated Morocco’s settler colonisation in the region. For example, the EU has paid Morocco for access to its fishing waters. It has done so through the fisheries agreement, which has funded the development of Morroco’s fishing sector and “infrastructure projects in a territory over which it has no legal title”.

Furthermore, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) found that Morocco spent the majority of EU funding in Western Sahara. Specifically, it used over 77% of the €45.35m provided between July 2019 to October 2020 to finance fisheries and development in the illegally occupied territory.

Complicity continues
On 17 July, the four-year fisheries arrangement between the EU and Morocco is set to expire.

As a result, Morocco can no longer issue permits to EU fishing vessels in Western Saharan waters. However, ClientEarth has highlighted how the EU will remain entangled in this illegal plundering. It stated that:

Although the fleet belongs to Moroccan companies, they often operate with European companies through joint ventures. Several European companies process octopus locally.

The EU’s direct plundering of Western Sahara’s coastal territory is finally coming to an end. However, it will not easily undo the impacts of its long-term disregard for the rights of the Saharawi people.

This all goes to show that there can be nothing ethical about the extractive exploitation of wildlife under capitalism. In Western Sahara, this exploitation also sits at the heart of this colonial occupation. The Global North’s pursuit of natural resources for profit continues to drive colonisation in the Global South. This, in turn, demonstrates how the liberation of marginalised communities and nature everywhere is irrecoverably intertwined.

 source: Canary Workers’ Co-op