Truce does not yield a better catch for Gaza’s fishermen

Gaza fishermen's livelihood at risk according to the U.N due to Israeli restrictions. (Reuters)

Despite the fragile truce, Gaza's fishermen are still netting a miserable catch as they attempt to secure their daily bread. Restrictions imposed by Israel mean that their boats are allowed only three nautical miles (5.6 km) offshore which reduces the quality and quantity of their fishing yield. Added to a month of no fishing at all during the recent fighting, these fisherman can barely scrape a living.

For years Gaza's fishing community - once one of its proudest and most productive industries - has suffered the effects of the conflict between the blockaded Palestinian enclave and Israel.

As Palestinian and Israeli negotiators meet independently with Egyptian officials in Cairo to try to reach an agreement to end the conflict, maritime rights are one of the critical issues up for discussion.

Gaza's truce is no catch for fishermen

The Palestinians want Israel to allow fishermen to sail up to 12 nautical miles from the shore - the internationally defined limit for a nation's waters - so that they can net greater numbers of larger fish.

Over the past eight years, Israel has set a six-mile limit for Gaza's fishermen when tensions were lower, restricting it to three miles when hostilities have escalated.

Israel says Gaza's sea, air and land blockade aims to prevent Hamas, the Islamist group which runs Gaza, from acquiring weapons or materials that could be used against it.


Since Israel responded to rocket fire from Gaza with airstrikes and a ground invasion, fighting that left more than 1,900 Palestinians and 64 soldiers and three civilians in Israel dead - fishermen have been even more restricted, barely leaving the shoreline.

"They brought us back to zero," said fisherman Khalid Abu Riyad, 50, on a jetty before heading out to sea before dawn.


The United Nations food agency estimates 3,600 Gaza households are involved in fishing. Just under half of those have no other source of income.

"The livelihood of these people is completely jeopardised," said Ciro Fiorillo, head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization's operations in Gaza and the West Bank.


The agency estimates that the latest conflict deprived fishermen of around 200-250 tonnes of fish, or 9-10 percent of their average annual catch under a six-mile restriction.


Fishermen describe being shot at or harassed by Israeli naval vessels, sometimes even when they are inside the allocated fishing zone, which is marked with illuminated red warning buoys. They say Israel has sometimes confiscated equipment and on occasion they have had to abandon it if they came under fire.

Instead of serving fish caught miles from their doorstep, the stretch of restaurants close to the shore offer farmed, frozen seafood, or fish smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt.

Asaad Abu Hasira, 53, recalled that before 2000, his fish restaurant and the industry were thriving.

"It was excellent, tourists used to come from Arab countries. There were foreign and local tourists and international delegations," he said at his coastal business, which has been serving up fish since 1955.

For him, the Israeli restrictions have done more than restrict livelihoods, it has harmed cultural links with the sea.

"Part of Palestinian society lives by the sea and works by the sea. There is a greater fishing tradition than in Israel," he said, adding that he cannot bring himself to give up.

"I love fish, if I am away from the sea, I die - like a fish."
 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:42 - GMT 06:42
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