Morocco says scrapped EU fishing deal will hurt ties

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The scrapping of an EU-Morocco fisheries deal will hurt relations but could spell an opportunity for local fishing fleets, the north African country's fisheries minister said Thursday.

The European Parliament on Wednesday voted against extending an agreement that has given mainly Spanish trawlers special access to Moroccan waters, leading Rabat to immediately block all European fishing boats.

The parliamentarians said it was unclear whether the agreement benefitted the people of Western Sahara -- which Morocco annexed in 1976 and calls its southern provinces, and where an independence movement has been active.

Morocco's fisheries minister, Aziz Akhannouch, said in a statement on Thursday that the EU parliament's move had "very negative consequences for the relationship between the EU and Morocco".

But he added that "rather than a threat looming over the industry, this is an opportunity," according to news agency MAP.

"We have our own means of developing the sector. We have a lot of professionals who want to fish this resource and develop it to benefit Morocco."

Under the deal, Morocco would have received 36.1 million euros ($46 million) to let some 120 fishing boats, mainly from Spain, operate in its waters, as well as charges based on the catch by the ship-owners.

The European parliament voted against extending the agreement, arguing that it cost the European Union too much, was environmentally damaging, and that it was unclear whether it helped the area's people.

Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1976 after Spain withdrew, and Polisario fighters took up arms for an independent state. The UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991 but a promised self-determination referendum has never been held.

© 2011 AFP

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