Trawlers pack the bustling Western Saharan port of Dakhla, where fish scales glisten from workers´ arms as they roll up their nets and buyers shout bids in a sprawling auction warehouse. Nearby, turquoise waters lap wide, nearly empty Atlantic beaches and diners sip tea in sidewalk cafes. Plans by the United States to open a consulate in Western Sahara mark a turning point for the disputed and closely policed territory in North Africa. The US move recognizes Morocco’s authority over the land – in exchange for Morocco normalizing relations with Israel. Top American and Moroccan officials are in the region this weekend to lay the groundwork for the project. While this shift in US foreign policy frustrates indigenous Sahrawis who have sought Western Sahara’s independence for decades, others see new opportunities for trade and tourism that will provide a welcome boost for the region and sun-kissed coastal cities like Dakhla. A portrait of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, waving from behind his sunglasses, hangs from the crenellated archway that greets people arriving in Dakhla. The king’s face is juxtaposed on a map that includes Western Sahara as an integral part of Morocco. Morocco annexed the former Spanish colony in 1975, which unleashed a 16-year war and then 30 years of diplomatic and military stalemate between Morocco and the Polisario Front, an organization seeking Western Sahara’s independence that is based in and backed by Algeria. The long-running territorial dispute has limited Western Sahara´s links with the outside world. Khatat Yanja, head of Dakhla´s regional council, looks forward to the US arrival opening up his city to new markets and persuading more tourists to enjoy its beaches, local wares and breathtaking sunsets. He expressed hope for US investment in tourism, renewable energy, farming and especially fishing. “We appreciate such a gesture,” Yanja said of the future consulate. “It will open a new chapter altogether when it comes to investment in this region, via employing people and creating more resources. It will also open more doors for international trade.” The main fishing port is the lifeline of the local economy, employing 70% of Dakhla´s work force. Thousands of boats bring in 500,000 tons of fish per year, for exports worth 2.2 billion dirhams ($249 million) annually, according to port director Bintaleb Elhassan. Beneath flocks of honking seagulls, fishermen haul sardines and mackerel to warehouses where the catch is auctioned off from neatly lined trays. In nearby processing plants, rows of women, including migrants from around Africa, clean and sort the fish. Morocco tightly polices the region. On a recent visit to Dakhla, authorities closely monitored an Associated Press reporter in the way both visitors and residents often are. US Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker visited Dakhla and Western Sahara´s biggest city, Laayoune, on Saturday. He and Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita are expected to unveil a temporary diplomatic outpost on Sunday.