This morning, Juan Cuetos and I crossed into Morocco through the Melilla border in order to inspect the Nador fishing port in search of drift netters.
The “entrance to Europe” has a unique smell. A huge fence separates two worlds, Africa and Europe. We make our way through the noisy crowd that moves in all directions, carrying packages, tires, refrigerators… Cars blowing their horns, military personnel, policemen, everyone pushing and shoving. This is not the first time I cross into Morocco, but I think I will never get used to this, nor to the fact that the world changes so abruptly only a few meters away from No Man’s Land. We crossed as fast as customs bureaucracy would allow us and we made our way to the port.
The port of Nador is huge. Upon entering, we spotted the fish market and a large number of moored trawlers, probably due to the adverse meteorological conditions. The activity on the docks is frenetic, fishermen repairing nets that are completely laid out on the floor, fish being transported, motors…
The truth is that tourists do not usually enter the port area, but there we are, pretending to admire the beautiful industrial scenery and taking photos of each other, innocently thinking that we would not be in the least suspicious, when in reality, all eyes were focused on us.
As we reached the last docks in the port, we found large quantities of drift nets unfolded between two esplanades, large piles of them on the lengths of the docks… and the netters with their crews. Juan was practically boarding the ships when we looked at the names and license numbers of the netters, El Farsioui, Zidni… These were the same vessels that we documented a few nights before as they carried out their fishing activity. We backed up a bit and Juan took a few panoramic shots, careful not to raise any suspicions. We moved on, counting the number of netters and observing how the fishermen repaired the drift nets.
At one point, someone approached us and spoke a few words, and among other things, he told us that perhaps our camera would be stolen. As we realised this person was familiar with the fishermen, we took the advice and Juan decided to stop taking photos conspicuously, and although the camera hung around his neck, his hand kept pressing the button.
When another person came to speak to us, a crew member from the mako fleet, he approached us and asked: “Are you taking pictures of the boats?” We decided it was time to leave. We had the photos, as well as estimates of the number of nets and the number of ships we observed, so as soon as we got rid of our mako fisherman friend, who accompanied us to the port exit, we headed towards the border.
Once again, we have verified that the nets are still present, at port as well as at sea, in spite of international agreements and legislation, capturing protected species or simply uselessly killing species that are accidentally captured, and in such rich ecosystems with such special characteristics as the Alboran Sea.
The key to eliminating the Moroccan drift netter fleet lies in the fisheries agreements the EU has signed with Morocco.