Gaza's fishermen struggle to keep afloat

Gaza's fishermen struggle to keep afloat

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Fishing is not always a peaceful time at sea for Gaza's fishermen, who follow in the footsteps of their fathers and grandfathers. They are allowed only to catch the fish in a small area close to the shore due to Israeli restrictions, and if they go beyond the permitted fishing zone they risk being shot at or losing their boats.

Yet Palestinian fishermen still hold on to their trade, which has passed on to them for generations, fishing off the coast of the Gaza Strip and making their own fishing nets by hand.

In the port of Gaza, dozens of fishermen sit under canopies, amid their nets, either repairing those that are damaged or making new ones with basic tools such as hooks and pins to knot the silk and nylon threads.

Fisherman Saadi Jarad works from dawn to dusk making and repairing fishing nets for his sons, for whom the trade is the only source of the family's livelihood.

"Making fishing nets is one of the old professions passed on from one generation to the next. We will not abandon it. It is a source of livelihood for us and our children, especially in light of the rampant unemployment among young people," Jarad told Al-Monitor.

He added, "Making nets is not easy. It takes effort and concentration as well as patience and perseverance. This is why we try to teach it gradually to our grandsons. It also takes a lot of time to make different types of nets in the quantities required for every fishing season each year."

Mohamed Salah learned the profession from this father, and he has been fishing and making nets for 10 years. He told Al-Monitor, "Making fishing nets can result in physical issues such as back pain and blurred vision, but what else is there to do?"

Salah said, "Most of the job is centered on repairing the nets that are constantly torn either because the fish are big or because of the rocks in the sea, or because the Israeli occupation forces deliberately destroy them if we go beyond the permitted fishing zone. It is a disaster for the fishermen as [fixing] the nets is expensive and repairs take a long time."

He added that there are two types of fishing nets: the small nylon nets used for catching small fish such as sardines — these require a lot of maintenance — and the large silk nets used to catch big fish such as rays, also called batfish.

"Making nets is costly because the silk and nylon threads are very expensive. A single silk net is sold for [up to] $6,000," Salah said.

Fishermen use netting needles to weave their fishing nets, as the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip has prevented the entry of machines. All raw materials are purchased from the Gaza Fishermen's Association, which provides fishermen with everything they need. In addition, Qatari and Turkish institutions operating in Gaza provide them with thread and assist them in repairing the damaged boats.

But the fishermen in the Gaza Strip battle on many fronts, including Israeli prohibitions that prevent their access to areas off the coast with an abundant supply of fish. Only limited quantities of whitebait fish and caridean shrimp are caught and sold to restaurants and citizens in the Gazan market.

There is a high demand in Gaza for frozen and imported fish because of the lower prices and because they are different from fish caught locally. Moreover, some fish species such as gilt-head bream are now imported and grown at fish farms. As a result, fishermen often incur heavy losses and barely cover operating expenses such as fuel and workers' wages.