October 24, 2017. On October 18, Israel notified the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee in Gaza that the Strip’s fishing zone would be expanded from six to nine nautical miles off the Gaza coast for the duration of the “fishing season.” This is the third time since Operation Protective Edge in 2014 that the Israeli authorities have announced such an expansion. According to information received by foreign diplomats in Israel from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the expansion is to remain in effect until December 12.
The expansion only applies to the area south of Wadi Gaza. To the north of it, the fishing zone remains restricted to six nautical miles off the shore.
Statistics compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) reveal that Gaza fishermen’s catch has been increasing every year since 2011. In 2016, the catch was 3,306 tons. So far in 2017, the catch has been 2,245 tons (January – September). Fishing is an important sector in Gaza’s economy. It supports thousands of families and has been a source of livelihood in Gaza for generations. The maritime closure imposed by Israel has debilitated the sector, and made fishing an extremely dangerous occupation: the Israeli navy arrests fishermen and confiscates boats, often opening fire at fishing boats deemed to have exceeded the fishing zone. According to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, two fishermen were killed this year at sea.
Nizar Ayash, chair of the Gaza Fishermen’s Union, told Gisha’s field coordinator that a three-mile expansion of the fishing zone was not sufficient. Sailing to a distance of nine miles leads to additional expenses for fishermen, and there is no guarantee that the catch will be significantly greater. At the end of the previous expansion of the fishing zone, in June this year, Gaza fishermen told Gisha that while there was no significant change in the quantity of fish caught, the variety of fish was greater, which did help increase profits for some of the fishermen. Ayash emphasized that the fishing community is calling for an expansion of the fishing zone to at least 12 nautical miles off the entire Gaza shoreline.
Before expensive development projects such as artificial island-ports are considered, there are steps that can be taken to ensure Gaza residents have access to livelihoods, especially from the resources most readily available to them, such as the sea. What Israel describes as an extension of the fishing zone is in fact a far more limited restriction than what is stipulated in the Oslo Accords, according to which Gaza’s fishing zone should have stretched 20 nautical miles off the coast. The restriction also contradicts repeated statements made by senior Israeli officials about the importance of increasing job opportunities and encouraging economic activity in Gaza, and infringes on the rights of its residents to freedom of movement and access to livelihood.