Gaza fishing industry reeling

13 March 2009

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A family of Gaza fishermen work together to untie their nets, now in short supply after the almost two-year-long Israeli siege of the territory. (Erica Silverman/IRIN)


GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (IRIN) - A combination of damage to fishing resources caused by the Israeli offensive, and a restriction on the zone in which Gazans are allowed to fish is reducing catches and adversely affecting people’s diets in Gaza, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In January 2009 the Israeli authorities reduced the area in which fishermen can fish from six to three nautical miles from Gaza’s coastline.

In Rafah (southern Gaza) fishing has almost completely stopped due to the damage inflicted on fishing gear and boats during the 22-days of attacks that ended on 18 January.

Fishing nets, rope, twine and gas mantles are in short supply due to the Israeli blockade of Gaza since June 2007, according to OCHA, along with engines and spare parts.

“During Operation Cast Lead a naval closure was imposed on the Gaza Strip. Following the end of fighting the navy decided to allow fishing from up to three miles from the coast,” said an Israeli military source who preferred anonymity. “The closure was imposed to prevent the smuggling of weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip by sea.”

Gazan fishing was permitted up to 12 nautical miles from the coast before 2000, but was reduced to six after 2000, according to OCHA. Under the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 fishing off Gaza was allowed within 20 nautical miles of the coast.

Parlous state

In 2008 fishing accounted for 1.5 percent of Gaza’s economy (agriculture and fishing together accounted for 10 percent), according to the agricultural ministry in Gaza.

The fishing industry was in a parlous state even before the 27 December 2008 Israeli attack on Gaza.

“Today there are about 3,500 fishermen in Gaza; in 2000 there were 10,000,” said agricultural minister Mohammed Agah. “The main obstacle for fishermen before the war was the lack of fuel, but now they are having greater difficulties.”

Petrol and diesel were last allowed into Gaza via Nahal Oz for public use on 2 November 2008, reports OCHA, and according to the Gas Station Owners’ Association, no fuel has been delivered to Gaza through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egyptian border since 26 February 2009.

Protein intake down

The restrictions on fishing — and imports of such things as animal feed and livestock — have effectively reduced Gazans’ protein intake since the war, said Agah, who says daily protein intake is 50 percent less than average daily protein intake across the Arab world — something that would affect child development, he said.

“In 2008, the fishing catch in Gaza was 3,000 tons — about 250 tons monthly — while Gaza needs an annual catch of 20,000 tons to meet people’s needs,” said the head of the fishing authority, Hassan Azman, adding: “only 65 tons were caught in February.”

After the recent war the Israeli naval authorities have been allowing Gazan fishermen to make just 10 fishing trips per month, instead of the 80 required, according to Azman.

“The larger fishing boats [about 85 of the total of 450 boats] cannot fish less than three miles from the coast,” said Azman.

“We can’t catch big, healthy fish within the three mile zone, and in April Israeli and Egyptian fishermen will fish beyond the three-mile zone, reducing stocks,” said 56-year-old Gaza fisherman Mohammed al-Hisi.

Since the war nine fishermen have been wounded by Israeli gunboat-fire, al-Hisi said.

War damage estimates

During the war Gazan boats were sprayed by water-cannon, drenching engines and flooding decks, and they were also shot at. Many boats were riddled with bullets, and about 113 were damaged, said Azman. He estimates the fishing industry suffered $10 million worth of damage during the Israeli offensive.

Direct losses to agriculture during the war were $218.2 million, according to preliminary estimates by the Gaza ministry of planning, while direct and indirect opportunity losses to the agricultural sector are estimated at $228.6 million.

The Gaza fishing authority is trying to create a third fish farm in Gaza to boost supplies.

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