Spain orders fishermen back to port after Morocco ban
Scores of Spanish fishing boats sat stuck in port Thursday after being banned from Moroccan waters, raising alarm over the threat to jobs in an already troubled economy.
Spain ordered its fleet home when Morocco barred European boats from fishing in its waters after the European Parliament cancelled a deal for EU countries to fish there in exchange for annual payments to Rabat.
The leading Spanish labour union CCOO estimates the move threatens 1,000 jobs of people directly employed in fishing and a further 5,000 in other sectors linked to the industry, it said in a statement.
The fisheries ministry said it had called all Spanish boats fishing in Moroccan waters back to their home ports, most of them in the southern Andalucia region and the Canary Islands.
The government said 64 Spanish boats were affected and estimated the number of direct jobs threatened at 600. Until the ban Spain was the biggest fisher in Moroccan waters, with 100 of the 120 available licences.
Spain declined to quantify the economic impact of the cancellation on Spain, which consumes millions of tonnes of fish a year according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
But the decision dealt a clear blow to a country already suffering from a 21.5-percent jobless rate, with some five million Spaniards unemployed and economists warning of a fresh recession next year.
"Things were already bad. Now, as we say in the Canaries, we are being thrown to the fishes," said Francisco Jimenez, a spokesman for the fishermen's guild in the province of Las Palmas on the Atlantic archipelago.
"This was bitter news. No one expected it."
He said there were no other fishing grounds that offered a viable alternative for the fleet in Las Palmas.
All the fishing crews there have returned to port and "are waiting to see if there will be a new decision," Jimenez said.
"Otherwise they'll send people to the unemployment queue -- that's the biggest recruiter in Spain."
If the fishing deal had been extended by a year as proposed, Morocco would have received 36 million euros ($46 million) to let some 120 boats, mainly from Spain, fish in its waters.
The European parliament voted against extending it, arguing it cost the EU too much, was environmentally damaging and may not have been in the interests of people in the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
In the Andalucian port of Algeciras all the 15 ships in the local fleet "came back from midnight last night after the agreement was cancelled," said Luis Gonzalez, a spokesman for the local fishermen's guild.
"They are hoping the situation gets fixed quickly," he said, adding that he did not know if there were alternative fishing grounds available. "I suppose the European Parliament must have a solution."
Spain's fisheries minister, Rosa Aguilar, told reporters in Brussels that Spain is demanding EU compensation.
"This is going to cause major harm to the Spanish fleet," she said. "This harm must be compensated for."
Her Moroccan counterpart Aziz Akhannouch said in a statement that the move had "very negative consequences for the relationship between the EU and Morocco" but could be an "opportunity" for Moroccan fishers.
© 2011 AFP