A little more sea

fish

Gaza fishermen. Photo: Eman Mohammed

April 6, 2016. A decision to allow fishing access up to nine nautical miles from the shore of Gaza, south of Wadi Gaza, was implemented on Sunday this week. Around 250 small fishing boats and 30 larger fishing boats went out to sea, after years of the fishing zone fluctuating between three and six nautical miles from the coast.

Fishermen in Gaza report that so far the change hasn’t yielded larger quantities but did lead to a greater variety of catch. It’s too early to say just how much the expansion will yield, particularly given uncertainty about how the zone will be enforced.

Around 4,000 people struggle to make a living in the fishing industry and most have unfortunately become dependent on humanitarian aid in order to survive. The limited permissible area for fishing has led to overfishing and scarcity. In addition, enforcement of the fishing area by the Israeli navy has led to injuries, loss of life, damage to and confiscation of fishing boats and their motors, further harming the industry.

The fishermen we spoke with have high hopes, including about their potential to sell fish on the local market and in the West Bank as well. For example, this week, for the first time in years, fresh grouper fish was sold in Gaza for between 70 to 80 shekels per kilogram. Until now, stores in Gaza only sold frozen grouper for around 20 shekels per kilo.

There is a sense of uncertainty among the fishing industry about the nature of the change in fishing area. The notification from COGAT on its Facebook page mentioned that the change comes in the context of the fishing “season”. Fishermen we spoke to cited that the high season begins in the next couple of weeks and expressed concern about what might happen after.

Israel has used the size of the permissible fishing zone around Gaza as a punitive tool and over the past several years has repeatedly moved the permitted areas between six and three nautical miles in response to things like rocket fire from the Strip. According to the Oslo Accords, fishermen were to be permitted to fish up to 20 nautical miles from the coast of Gaza. The head of the fishermen’s union in Gaza estimated in the past that if fishermen were in fact allowed to fish up to that agreed-upon distance, they would be able to catch around 4,000 tons a year, an amount that would provide enough for the Gaza market and allow for the sale of additional fish in Israel and the West Bank.