Fishing for Self-Determination: European Fisheries and Western Sahara — The Case of Ocean Resources in Africa's Last Colony

(2013) 27 Ocean Yearbook 267

29 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2013 Last revised: 23 Jul 2013

See all articles by Jeffrey Smith

Jeffrey Smith

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: March 31, 2013


European states, particularly Spain, have fished the waters of Western Sahara for centuries. In December 2011, this history came to an abrupt end with the European Parliament voting for the first time under the Lisbon Treaty to reject a treaty; the 2007 EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement. A quarter century of EEC-EU involvement in the Saharan fishery has been left in disarray out of concern for the sustainability of stocks in the Canary Current Large Marine Ecosystem area, the economic value of the agreement, and the question of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.

This paper addresses the question of Western Sahara and the role that natural resources, in particular a European fishery, have played in the self-determination of the Saharawi people. The nature of historic fisheries on the Saharan coast is reviewed and the status of Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory (sometimes referred to as Africa’s last colony) together with the issue of the Saharawi people’s sovereign rights to natural resources. The Spanish-Moroccan and EU-Moroccan fisheries treaties from 1986 until 2011 is canvassed, including the differing and sometimes conflicting views of the European Commission, EU member states and the EU Parliament. The roles of Morocco as the state administering (or occupying) Western Sahara and that of the Frente POLISARIO in fisheries matters is an important part of this. The phenomenon of the European Parliament rejecting a longstanding resource arrangement (and European Commission treaty) under the Lisbon Treaty receives critical assessment. The prospects for renewed fishing on the Saharan coast and how that could result in a benefit to the Saharawi people is assessed, together with possible governing and mediating roles of the United Nations.

Keywords: International law, European Union, Lisbon Treaty, Western Sahara, Self-determination, Sovereignty to resources, Fisheries, Law of the Sea

JEL Classification: K33, N57

Suggested Citation

Smith, Jeffrey, Fishing for Self-Determination: European Fisheries and Western Sahara — The Case of Ocean Resources in Africa's Last Colony (March 31, 2013). (2013) 27 Ocean Yearbook 267 , Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey Smith (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

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