By Mohamed Chakir
Thousands of Morocco's unemployed slum-dwellers head to the Atlantic coast every morning to scrape a living as illegal mussel pickers. But experts say they threaten the health of the marine ecosystem.
The stretch of coast between Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco's economic capital renowned for its sprawling slums, or "bidonvilles," is the most popular destination for these unlicensed fishermen, who flock to the area at low tide.
The mussels that line the rocky sections of the coast are highly sought after in Morocco, where they are served up in tajines, or cooked with onions and lemons, and are particularly in demand during the holy month of Ramadan.
So when the tide is out, the poachers scour the rocks with iron bars they use to catch the black-shelled mollusks, and with the full knowledge of the authorities, who are supposed to help protect the shoreline but instead turn a blind eye.
Unemployment is a major problem in Morocco — tens of thousands demonstrated in Casablanca in May demanding jobs — so the unauthorized mussel-pickers are tolerated, as an official in Harhoura, a seaside resort near Rabat, explained.
"We can't stop this informal activity because we have nothing to offer the fishermen as an alternative," he told AFP.
More importantly, from an ecological point of view, the government has never passed a law to encourage the conservation of the mussels, which play an important role in preserving the marine environment. More....