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Morocco’s force for change

The country’s Blue Economy Program received $350M from the World Bank. Will it result in positive change?

December 20, 2023  By Gordon Feller


Photo: © rudiernst / Adobe Stock

Morocco’s government has decided that it needs to urgently address the growing impacts of climate change. With the help of both private companies and global organizations, it is now working to develop an inclusive and resilient blue economy (BE). 

Morocco’s national government leaders, together with private sector executives and international agency heads, have all agreed that the resiliency of key BE sectors of the economy must be strengthened – and especially so if they are to adapt to climate change. 

Unlike almost every one of its neighbours in North Africa, Morocco has made significant progress in climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. They have aimed to make its “territory and civilization more resilient to climate change while ensuring a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy.” 

However, BE sectors require additional financial and technical investments to develop capacity, pilot innovative climate-smart technologies, and establish new climate-resilient models. For example, fisheries are vulnerable to meteorological and oceanographic shifts, which could affect the distribution, abundance, migration, and reproductive patterns of important commercial fish species. 

Based on analyses of data collected by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Moroccan fishing industry was quite substantial in 2022:

  • Total fish production: 1,369,115 metric tonnes
  • Capture fisheries production: 1,206,203 metric tonnes
  • Aquaculture production: 162,912 metric tonnes
  • Gross value of fish production: US$2.5 billion
  • Employment in the fisheries sector: 650,000 people

Morocco is one of the leading fishing countries in Africa, and its fishing industry plays an important role in the country’s overall economy. The industry provides food and jobs for millions of people, and it also contributes to the country’s export earnings. The main types of fish caught in Morocco include sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and tuna. 

The country also has a growing aquaculture sector, which produces fish such as seabass, seabream, and trout. The good news for the national economy is that the production of a varied menu of aquaculture products – such as fish, shellfish, and seaweed – has been on a steady climb. 

One reason for the aquaculture industry’s success has been the fact that Morocco’s traditional fishing industry is facing a number of persistent and hard-to-reverse challenges, including overfishing, climate change, and pollution. However, the government is taking steps to address these challenges, such as implementing sustainable fishing practices and investing in aquaculture.

Morocco exported US$1.8 billion worth of fish and fishery products in 2022. The main export markets for Moroccan fish and fishery products are the European Union, the United States, and China. Morocco imported US$346 million worth of fish and fishery products in 2022. The main import markets for Moroccan fish and fishery products are Spain, Norway, and India.

The scientific facts are increasingly clear: climate change is threatening the future of Morocco’s economy. The country is particularly vulnerable because 81 per cent of the country’s industries are concentrated in coastal areas. These enterprises are increasingly susceptible to sea level rise and storm damage. Coastal erosion threatens more than half of Morocco’s shoreline, which can cause economic loss through damage to coastal communities and lost tourism revenues. 

Poor households are known to suffer the greatest economic losses from extreme weather events. Low-income, marginalized populations, especially women, youth, rural populations, and small enterprises along the coast, are vulnerable as they often lack resources to adapt to intensifying weather events – such as floods, landslides, droughts, and heat waves. Increased poverty due to the COVID-19 pandemic has further limited the capacities of residents to cope with these challenges. 

In 2021, Morocco ranked 123 (out of 191) in the Human Development Index assessed by the United Nations Development Programme. Their ranking dropped two slots from the previous year, in large part due to global climate risks – including the economic effects of rising temperatures and declining rainfalls.

Against this backdrop, the national government is launching a national BE program to build a more inclusive and resilient BE. The government program aims to improve economic growth and job creation, food security, and sustainability and resilience of natural resources. Especially, the food security objective has assumed increased importance over the past weeks given the impact of the war in Ukraine. The program aims to help achieve some of objectives built into the country’s “Coastal Law”. It is aligned with the country’s “National Determined Contributions”, which Morocco’s obliged to identify under the terms of the Paris Climate Treaty (aka the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). Given the wealth of marine and coastal assets of the country, Moroccan coasts offer significant opportunities for job creation, equitable recovery from the pandemic, and increased resilience in the face of climate change.

Two key organizations have been mobilized by the Prime Minister and the King: 

  • The National Institute of Fisheries Research (INRH) in Morocco: This institute is responsible for fisheries research in Morocco and may provide up-to-date statistics on the fishing industry.
  • The National Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Morocco: The ministry oversees the country’s agricultural and fisheries policies and may release reports on the performance of the fishing industry.

With its blue riches in both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco is widely seen around the world as having high potential for developing its BE. The country has a wealth of marine resources underpinned by high biodiversity with 600 identified fish species. 

In total, Morocco’s coastal areas contribute 59 per cent of GDP and provide 52 per cent of jobs in the country. The fisheries sector alone contributes 1.5 per cent of GDP and provides 700,000 direct and indirect jobs. According to the Exchange Office (Office des Changes), exports from the fisheries sector account for 7.1 per cent of the total export. In 2021, the government set a target to create 450,000 jobs in maritime fishery and the agri-food industry within five years, as part of the overall efforts to create new jobs and help the national economy recover from the pandemic. 

The government’s “2020 Halieutis Strategy” identified aquaculture as a sector with high growth potential – especially in light of the fact that international and domestic demand for seafood is growing. The main bottlenecks hampering growth include lack of technical capacity and limited access to financing. With additional investments and capacity development, the sector could play a key role in addressing fishing pressures and contributing to food security.

The degradation of marine and coastal ecosystems is a threat to Morocco’s BE. It costs US$260 million per year, equivalent to 0.27 per cent of Morocco’s GDP. In addition, both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean are facing increasing overexploitation of fishery resources. In the Mediterranean, 75 per cent of fish stocks are subject to overfishing, although recently there have been signs of recovery. In addition, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing puts pressure on already vulnerable fish stocks.

Morocco’s coastal ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change impacts. Approximately 54 per cent of the coastline is subject to serious erosion. On average the sandy beach shoreline is retreating 12 cm per year on the Atlantic coast and 14 cm on the Mediterranean coast. Sea level rise may submerge half of the beach areas by 2050 and 72 per cent by 2100, potentially affecting 187,400 people by flooding. Over-extraction of water in coastal regions is causing saltwater intrusion in aquifers and salinization of agricultural land in these regions. Rising demand for freshwater further intensifies pressure on aquifers and creates challenges for economic activities that rely on this supply. 

Like many other governments around the world, Morocco’s national government, together with the private sector, has been working to develop its aquaculture sector. The key aim is to reduce dependency on wild fisheries. Whether it can succeed, even with generous help from the World Bank. and others, is still an open question. 


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