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Fresh start for Gaza fishermen

11-10-2006 Feature

From the beginning of the second Intifada in 2000 until the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, sardine fishermen were cut off from their boats. With a helping hand from the ICRC, the vital fishery is getting underway again.

  ©ICRC/B. Barrett/il-e-2684    
  Fisherman Yousef Al Zahar climbs out of the engine room of his newly refurbished Shanshola boat in the Mawasi area of southern Gaza.    
  ©ICRC/B. Barrett/il-e-2673    
  Yousef's boat, one of 19 Shansholas refurbished with the assistance of the ICRC.    
  ©ICRC/B. Barrett/il-e-2671    
  Nizar Ayyash, president of the Gaza fishermen's syndicate, examines one of the newly refurbished boats.    

Yousef Al Zahar sits on the deck of the beached Shanshola boat he owns with his brother. " As fishermen, we say we have to fight the sea. Thanks to the ICRC, at least now I do not have to leave it. " The 55 year-old says he first went to sea with his father at the age of 16 or 17 to learn the family trade.

" During the five years of closure, I never came to visit the boat, " he says. " When I finally returned it had rotted – my family profession had come to an end. I would not have had the ability to buy a new one or even repair the boat. This is a new start for us. I feel as if I were a young man starting to fish with a new boat. "

The ICRC has funded the rehabilitation of 19 Sansholas in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. A Shanshola is usually owned by at least two and up to twelve families. As the repairs required are different for each boat, the ICRC's assistance varies. In some cases, the families that own the boat contribute up to 35% of the costs. Yousef and his brother installed the engine and carried out the metalwork themselves. 

Like the other fishermen in the Gaza Strip, he and his brother are hopeful they will be able to put their boats to sea for the current sardine season. The sardine fishery represents about 90% of the annual income of the fishing communities and is therefore the main source of income for both the fishermen and related businesses.

Seven of the   nineteen boats were able to take part in   this year's first sardine season from April until June.


 New obstacles  

Since the events of late June, and the tightened Israeli control of the maritime zones off the coast of Gaza, only non-motorized boats have been allowed out and only to a maximum distance of roughly one nautical mile . The fall season is already upon them and the shoals of sardines are usually found beyond six nautical miles.

Nizar Ayyash is the president of the Fisherman's Syndicate for the South of Gaza. He says it will be disastrous if they are not able to go out for the sardine fishery. " There are 3,000 fishermen reliant on sardines. With family this means that roughly 40,000 people are dependent on the fishery. "  

" The families are dependant on loans and credit for food and other domestic necessities between seasons, " Ayyash explains. " If they can't go out, they will be left without income and the shop owners will be forced to cut off their credit. "


He mentions that not only fishing families benefit from the sardine season. " For some of the larger families in Gaza, food can be very expensive. Sardines are more affordable and are a good source of nutrition. "

Until access to the sea is given, there will continue to be very little activity on the shore. " The sea is there, the fish are there and the boats are here, " says Ayyash. " But the fishermen know that there is little point in coming down if they can't go out. "