On Tuesday (June 27), Israel announced it would reduce the fishing zone in southern Gaza back to six nautical miles off the coast. The fishing zone was temporarily expanded to nine nautical miles on May 3. The expansion only applied to the area south of Wadi Gaza. To the north of this area, fishing was only permitted up to a distance of six nautical miles, throughout.
According to figures gathered by the United Nations, during periods when the fishing zone was expanded in previous years, both the variety and the quantity of fishermen’s catches increased significantly. In conversations with Gisha’s data coordinator, Gaza fishermen who went out to fish in the expanded zone over the course of the last weeks reported that the quantities they were able to catch did not rise significantly, but that they did encounter a variety of fish that are more profitable and cannot be found in the fishing zone when it is restricted to six nautical miles.
The fishermen also described how the ongoing electricity crisis in Gaza affects them: Many workshops are out of commission, delaying essential boat repairs. With electricity supply allowing for no longer than six consecutive hours of power, fishermen are unable to freeze their catch, forcing them to resort to alternative methods of keeping the fish fresh, such as burying them in the sand.
The closure on Gaza, enforced along its coastal border by the Israeli navy, poses threats even greater than financial ruin. Fishing has become a highly hazardous occupation, with incidents of soldiers opening fire at fishermen reported constantly, resulting in injury, damage to equipment, and even death. On May 15, Gaza fisherman Muhammad Baker was shot dead from an Israeli navy vessel. According to Israeli authorities, his fishing boat had gone beyond the permitted fishing zone. Baker was the second fisherman shot dead this year.
Restricting Gaza’s fishing zone damages the livelihood of thousands of people working in the fishing industry and their families, and greatly impairs what was traditionally one of the most important occupations in Gaza. This aspect of Israel’s control over daily life in Gaza, along with many others, comes with responsibilities toward the civilian population of the Strip; including an obligation to enable residents to earn a decent living.