Declaration of the Federation of Fishermen’s Associations of the Canary Islands in support of the direct negotiation with the Polisario Front for the use of the  Saharawi fishing bank

Source: Federation of Fishermen’s Guilds of the Canary Islands; Canary Islands, March 2018.

Canarian fishermen have a historical relationship with the Sahara fishing bank which was modified by the abandonment of Western Sahara in 1976 by the Spanish State, which failed to fulfil its obligations to the Saharawi people, not allowing them exercise its right to self-determination.

Since then, we have witnessed a succession of fisheries agreements, between Spain first and the European Union later, with Morocco which meant for the fishermen of the Canaries a progressive expulsion of the fishermen and for the Saharawi people to see how the riches of the their seas are plundered by predatory fishing practices developed by powerful foreign fleets, allowed and encouraged by the Moroccan occupation administration.

This situation was declared contrary to the law in the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 21 December 2016 – C-104/16 P-. This judicial decision recognized that Morocco and Western Sahara are distinct and separate territories, by virtue of the Charter of the United Nations and the principle of self-determination of peoples, considering that the agreements between the European Union and Morocco do not apply to the Territory of Western Sahara or their waters, so that European companies can not under any circumstances use Moroccan permits to operate in Western Sahara. This judicial body also affirms that the determining factor is not to evaluate whether a specific economic activity can be favourable or not to the Saharawi population, but to ensure that the representative of the Saharawi people, the Polisario Front, has given its consent for its development. Thus, European legislation makes clear that any economic activity on the territory of Western Sahara is subject to the express agreement of the Polisario Front, the only representative of the Saharawi people, in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 34/37.

The European Union has initiated contacts with POLISARIO Front to comply with this decision. The POLISARIO Front clarified that the European Union should behave with the utmost respect for international legality and its own laws and therefore if it is tempted to include the waters of Western Sahara in any way in a new agreement on fishing with Morocco, Polisario will appeal again to the European courts, leaving in the absolute legal uncertainty the companies that intend to act under the cover of these agreements.

The POLISARIO Front expressed a desire to reach agreements with companies interested in developing economic activities in the territory and waters of Western Sahara, with the prospect of allowing respectful activity with its resources, sustainable in time and beneficial to the parties that sign the agreements.

From this Federation, we appeal to both the government of the Spanish State and the European Union so that, without undue distortions, they comply with the content of this decision of the CJEU and meet and negotiate with the representative of the Saharawi people recognized by the United Nations, the POLISARIO Front, a fisheries agreement that provides stability and adequate legal support for our presence in the waters of Western Sahara.

In this fisheries agreement, particular attention should be paid to the presence of the Canarian handicraft sector which, through its sustainable fishing practices, ensures the recovery of an impoverished fishing ground and the survival of certain resources which the Canary and Saharawi peoples can benefit from.

Lastly, we call for the implementation of the 1991 peace agreements and the numerous resolutions of the United Nations and the African Union so that the conflict in Western Sahara can be definitively resolved by holding a referendum in which the Saharawi people can freely decide the its future, so that all peoples in this area can develop in peace and stability.