On Wednesday 3rd May, reports showed that restrictions on Palestinian fishermen living in Gaza had been eased, allowing them to travel an extra three nautical miles off the coast. They were previously only allowed to travel six miles from the blockaded Palestinian territory, but can now go up to nine miles. According to Israeli government sources, this measure will only last until the end of June, and will only apply to the southern half of the Gaza Strip.
Although the temporary extension of territory available to Gaza’s fishermen will have a positive impact in the short term, participants in the fishing industry still face major risks at sea.
In 2016, 126 incidents of violence were recorded, where fishermen were fired at by military vessels. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), 12 fishermen were injured last year and 7 fishing boats were targets of shelling.
Even when Palestinian fishermen stay within the imposed limit, they’re not safe. Arrests and harassment are common, and there are reports of fishermen being interrogated as criminals despite staying within the designated fishing zone.
The number of registered fishermen in Gaza has declined from around 10,000 in 2000, to just 4,000. It’s estimated that another 50,000 people, mainly children and the elderly, rely on these fishermen for survival. The shrinking area that Gaza’s fishermen are permitted to work in has also caused a serious overfishing problem and a huge depletion in fish breeding grounds.
In Gaza, 95% of fishermen live below the national poverty line. They are forced to rely on loans and humanitarian aid in order to survive. They face harsh restrictions on sea access, exports and the entry of raw building materials into the Gaza Strip, meaning that fishermen are often unable to mend damaged boats or find essential spare parts. Without the materials to repair their vessels, fishermen are prevented from working and cannot feed their families.
Unemployment and underemployment are major issues in Palestine. Since the 2014 escalation in hostilities, unemployment in Gaza stands at 43% and at a massive 67% for young people. Around 40% of all Palestinians in the Gaza Strip live below the poverty line and the output of the agricultural sector is estimated by UN sources to have shrunk by 31% since 2013.
According to data from the World Food Programme (WFP), 50% of all people in Gaza don’t have enough food to eat. The 4,000 people currently employed by the fishing sector have, on average, a family of six who rely on them. Their livelihoods are being destroyed by violence and heavy restrictions.
Gaza’s fishermen and their families need our help more than ever. With fishing stock in the permitted fishing area becoming increasingly depleted, it’s likely that the families of fishermen will face increasingly harsh conditions.
Human Appeal has been working with fishermen in Gaza to supply them with new equipment, including fishing nets, rods and generators. Thanks to the generous support of our donors, we’ve been able to repair damaged fishing boats and ensure that fishermen are able to maintain their skills.
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