Artisanal Fishing in Morocco – Enormous Resources and Pressing Constraints

In Morocco, artisanal fishing is a traditional activity based on canoes, generally made of wood, generally equipped with an outboard engine and a small crew of three people on average, fishing for benthic and surface species. Fishing is mostly based on the coastline and in estuaries and lakes. Morocco overlooks the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean with coastlines extending over more than three thousand five hundred kilometers, opening its shields to tens of thousands of fishermen.

Artisanal fishing in the Moroccan Mediterranean Sea occupies a great place, due to the advantages it offers, especially the large mass of labor engaged in this activity. Its production consists mainly of species of high commercial value and is found on the entire coast.

artisanal fishing in morocco

The Mediterranean coast consists of maritime zones that manifest themselves in the west from the cities of Tanger, Tetouan and Chefchaouen to the east through Al Hoceima, Nador and Berkane. This coastline includes 94 sites, comprising 5 ports. This maritime space provides employment opportunities for around 7,800 seafarers working on 2,600 boats, ensuring social and economic balance in the region.

The Moroccan Mediterranean Sea has two natural features that concern an area of exchange with the Atlantic Ocean in the west, specifically at the Strait of Gibraltar and a lake, called, Marchica in the center of Nador. The Strait of Gibraltar lies between Morocco and Spain and separates the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean.

The region is witnessing an exchange of Mediterranean and Atlantic water masses, forming a corridor for several large migratory species such as bluefin tuna and swordfish.  At the national level, this privileged geographical location provides ample scope for the artisanal fishing sector. The lake of Nador, “Mar-Chica” is located in the east of the coast, between “Ras Alma” and “Cap Des 3 Fourches”. This lake has an oval shape, elongated parallel to the coast.  It has an area of about 115 kilometers. It is connected to the sea via the Boukana Pass.

The Nador region is characterized by intense activity, both in the semi-industrial fishing sector and in the artisanal fishing sector. The fleet consists mainly of fishing vessels and sardines, while artisanal fishing features a fleet of around 1,000 boats that provide employment for more than 3,000 sailors.

Fishermen do not engage in any other economic activities. In very rare cases, they may engage in low-income agriculture or trade. Women were confined to domestic chores and did not participate in any economic activity. But now the situation has changed, with women becoming key partners in fishing activities.

blue whale cooperative

The Mediterranean coast has many professional associations and cooperatives are active in artisanal fishing along the coastline. The Blue Whale Aquaculture Net Sewing Cooperative is among many active women’s cooperatives. Sanaa Karkari, head of the cooperative, said the cooperative is made up of women who sew nets for aquaculture farms and ropes for shellfish farms, cages and others.  It was established by the Fnideq Heroes Association for Underwater Fishing and Environmental Protection within the Fnideq Eco-City project. She received the “Lalla the Collaborator” Award in 2022.  It has partnered with the “Tanger Med Foundation”. The collaborators were supervised by the Cooperative “Doralup” for a year and a half. Then I started sewing aquaculture nets for “the Aqua M’diq” farm, which raises fish using the technique of floating cages and nets fixed to the sea through special ropes.

Sanaa Karkari pointed out that the women of the cooperative prepare shell breeding lanterns and also work on recycling nets. Currently, it has trained more than 20 women in this field with a view to their future employment.

Raiss Mimoun, head of the Marchika fishing cooperative in the Nador region, said fishermen use divided nets of two types, as well as special nets for algae farming. There are nets that are seasonally caught with limited fish species from April to July, such as “Rouget”, “Crevette” and “Sepia”.

He added that there is a type of nets caught throughout the year called “tramel”, which are fishing nets made up of three layers of uneven nets, used to catch fish in shallow waters. You catch a large whale from 200 g and above to 5 kg. In August, all species and varieties are hunted.

Mr. Memoun recalled the suffering posed by the crab tearing their nets. And the various constraints represented in some indiscriminate fishing practices where fishing is carried out with prohibited nets in certain periods, in which fishing with this type of nets is prohibited, because it takes small fish and larvae, pointing out that the artisanal fishing sector is unregulated, there is no full health coverage and they do not have a pension system. To support their livelihood, some seafarers have resorted to the cultivation of edible “grasselaria algae”. The cooperative provides natural shelters for tourists to visit the farm and taste the local fish.

“Marchica” of the Nador region is characterized by salt water, low or absent tides and good protection against wind and waves. This situation encourages artisanal fishing and promotes aquaculture activity. Fishing activity is a major activity of the Lake Nador community, and can be accompanied by subsistence farming or small businesses. The region is known for some fishing practices that are harmful to the marine ecosystem and endangered species, but thanks to awareness and sensitization organized by civil society and the National Institute for Research in Fisheries, some relatively indiscriminate practices have decreased.

artisanal fishing cooperative

Mohamed Settar of the Talassemtane Association for the Environment and Development., Sports and Culture in the city of Chefchaouen said that a field monitoring of a set of imbalances and problems associated with a group of axes related to the coast has been monitored. Most fishermen complain about the entrance to the port of Smaala, which poses a great danger to them and has witnessed numerous accidents. Its gate was designed in an inconvenient place and filled with visible and invisible underwater stones. Sand also flows into the marina space and fills the boat berthing areas, which requires bringing a very large mechanism to finish and displace the sand from it out of the port, in exchange for a huge budget for the cost of what this mechanism does.

Regarding the “Alboran – Aknion” reserve, Mohammed SETTAR added that the cement molds in which the fish are raised were destroyed and damaged in a number of fishing points by coastal fishing boats (trawlers), and the spread of “Nicro” fish (black dolphin) caused a real crisis for fishing professionals, through their repeated attacks on small pelagic fish, especially sardines, and on fishermen’s nets on local coasts. It also negatively affected catch yields.

Mohammed Settar stressed that there is a lack of respect for fishing laws (quota) regarding the amount of tuna caught on the coasts of the region, and from small pelagic fish that are used as bait by fishermen. The continuation of trawlers fishing in the sea near the shore, which is a major dilemma for sailors in the “Qaa Asras”, “Al-Jabha” and “Smaala”, through the elimination of small fish and throwing them into the sea, through circumventing the law in order to catch the largest possible share of fish, to the monopoly of the lion’s share of the quota allocated for fishing in all its fish branches.

A report drafted by the Talassemtane Association for the Environment and Development, Sports and Culture confirmed that the high production costs and successive increases in fuel prices created a noticeable disparity in the number of traditional boats operating in the region, which resulted in a reduction in the duration of fishing, which was reflected in their economic situation. The emptying of engine oil in the middle of the port by boat owners is considered a cause of water pollution, such as the case of the port of “El Jebeha”, in addition to the obsolescence of fishing equipment and boats for fishermen. This poses a threat to their safety while working. The report added that the continued indiscriminate fishing in the region contributes to the damage to fish stocks and harms the environment, which affects the marine life cycle chain in the coast. A new activity has emerged in the form of transporting visitors and tourists on tours at sea outside any legal framework.

Settar said that the association recommended activating the requirements and recommendations mentioned in the opinion of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council on the coast. Activating the roles of the environmental police, and cracking down on all violations related to the management of the coastal area in the region. The coastal territorial communities should adopt collective plans that include projects contributing to the geological, touristic, cultural and natural management of the coast. Rehabilitate the infrastructure of the coast in the region, and make it more resilient and resistant to any climate change. To combat the phenomenon of looting the sand of the coastal beaches of the region. Supporting scientific research related to the coast and creating special divisions and university courses on marine wealth and marine professions.

The association called for the rationalization of marine resources in line with the strategy of the “Aleutes” plan (1 and 2) for the sake of continuing fisheries to promote traditional fishing activity in the northern region. And the need to rehabilitate and repair the port of “smaala” similar to El Jebeha port , which will soon be covered by a comprehensive reform that responds to the aspirations of the population. and the reconstruction of the port entrance. Activating the role of the coast guard forces to control violating trawling boats that infiltrate, practice overfishing and fish in places close to the shores, distances in which trawling is prohibited according to the legal texts, which impose a distance of at least two miles as the closest point to the shore, which contributes to exacerbating the problems of traditional fishermen.

It is necessary to acquire marine relief and safety equipment for the benefit of traditional fishing boats in order to preserve the safety of fishermen. Then tighten control over the use of dynamite in fishing and suppress all observed violations. Consideration should be given to building a maritime vocational training centre in order to train new generations of seafarers and promote maritime professions. Training courses for fishermen and boat owners should be organized by the custodian sector on protection and marine ecosystems. Support for small fishermen and traditional fishers, especially in light of the high prices and fuel. Support fishermen to acquire nets used in catching pelagic fish, as this type of nets is characterized by strength and durability that is difficult for the fish (nicro) – black dolphin to penetrate and tear them. Biological comfort must be adopted and respected for each species as an objective solution for restoring the status quo of the fisheries, with parallel measures accompanying periods of adoption of biological rest, such as subsidies for seafarers through a financial fund established for this purpose and financed by periodic contributions by professionals.

Ahmed EL Fatih (80 years old), president of the traditional fishing association in the port of “Cala Iris”, and a member of the Mediterranean Chamber of Tanger, said that the areas of Kala Yris, Taris and Badis are among the best fishing areas. Between the areas of Al Hoceima and El Jebeha, there are the best and finest fish, especially the “Miro” fish, but unfortunately some rare species have disappeared due to random overfishing, and there are those who fish at night, because the fish is present and easy to catch.

The Ministry of Fisheries has not yet regulated the division of each category that catches a particular type of fish. Fishing is carried out only without division, depending on the gear used in the fishing, where fish wealth is lost, each time different nets are used on the other.

El-Fatih added that the fishing area has about 110 traditional boats involved in the cooperative he heads. There is a problem of unloading at some fishing points that do not have a port. The fisherman El Fatih, who has spent nearly 60 years in the fishing craft, said there was no limit to the amount of catch. There is no law regulating the amount of catch rationally without exhaustion of fish resources. “They asked us for biological comfort, we agreed at the professional fishing room to biological comfort, and we said that we are committed to biological comfort, but the seaman cannot remain without work for 3 months, and the concerned ministry did not find a solution, yes we stop working for three months or even 6 months, but compensation must be made.” Mr. El Fatih adds.

There is a problem of indiscriminate fishing, there must be a fishing license for each specific fish and with certain equipment, El Fatih stresses, recalling the crisis in the fishing sector due to the high price of fuel. The same spokesman said that specialists should coordinate with professionals to identify imbalances and seek solutions, although seafarers have received financial support. For me, this is not a solution, the problems remain. The real subsidy is the reduction in the price of fuel, while the material support has created other problems and has not found radical solutions. “Fuel cuts are a big boost for seafarers.”

This report was produced with the support of “Internews” Earth Press Network as part of the “Mediterranean Media Initiative”

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About Mohammed Tafraouti

Mohammed Tafraouti is a Moroccan environmental and scientific writer who has contributed to various national and international media channels. He is the President of Environmental Horizons for Media and Sustainable Development Center, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of the Environmental Horizons blog at He received the King Hassan II Environmental Award in 2018, in the media category. He is also an active member in several associations such as the Moroccan Association of Regional Sciences, the Arab Association of Scientific Media, and the Arab Forum for Environment and Development.

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