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  • The Gaza Fishermen

    Fisheries, Law and Legislation

    This is a post I have been procrastinating about for a couple of days now. Originally I planned to write an introduction on the state of the Palestine fisheries in Gaza, and to combine this with a simple analysis listing the pros and cons of the various measures undertaken by the Israelis. However, when reading more about the topic I found that for once this is a situation that can be divided into white and black, good and wrong. And no, neither "the Israelis" (generalized) or the inhabitants of Gaza are the wrong ones here.. the IDF is.

    Traditionally the Gaza area boosts a strong connection with the sea and fisheries. This is still true as of today, with some 3.000 fishermen and a total of about 35.000 people who -are trying to- depend on the industry as their main source of livelihood. Four harbours (wharfs) and over 700 ships support these activities. With about 1.3 million people living in the -isolated and economically crippled- Gaza area their catch could be a valuable addition to the overall source of food and to the economy. I say could, as the Israeli military has made it near impossible for the fishermen to go out to do their job, and for the Palestine's to exploit their sole natural resource.

    Over a period of almost thirty years the fishing area available to the fishermen has been systematically decreased from a gigantic 75.000sq km (before 1978, including waters of the Sinai coastline) to a mere 300sq km today. Within this 300sq km the Israeli navy randomly fires at fishing vessels and understanding among everyone is that any non-Israeli fishing vessel out on sea is a potential target. A number of fishermen have died because of this. Damage on fishing gear and boats is extensive. As of April 2007 most Palestine fishermen do not even leave their harbours any more.

    The current fishing zone -20 mile according to the Oslo Agreement and international community, 12 mile under the Bertini "Agreement", 6 mile according to the Israeli military- gives only access to the shallow coastal zone. A spawning and nursing zone that normally would be protected from most fishing activities and would serve to populate the surrounding waters. As a result of the very intensive fishing activities -out of instant need to fish at least somewhere- that occurred here over the past years many of the stocks are now listed as fully exploited and overexploited. The six mile zone does not give fishermen access to high priced species as tuna and mackerel that are only found in the twenty mile zone and further out. Since October 2006 the six mile zone has basically turned into a zero mile zone. May, the best fishing month of the year, will most likely be another one of no fishing.

    Social injustice.. or plain stealing. The Israeli fishing boats -part of a modern fleet- are now fishing in the area traditionally -and legally according to every single international agreement- owned by the Palestine fishermen. Only a few nautical miles offshore the Israeli boats are fishing under IDF navy protection.

    Fishing vessels in Gaza City wharf. March 2007. Photo by OCHA

    The Palestine fishermen have no means of direct communication with the Israeli military forces in the area. Neither do they, used to navigate on visual points on the shore, know the exact "border of the day" when they are at sea. Not many fishermen have a GPS to determine how close to the six mile border they are. it would be a great advantage already if more of them could use one of these -dirt cheap- devices, or if the IDF gave out up to date maps of their patrol zones.

    This is a well documented and clear case of the Israeli military using illegal action to refrain the Palestine fishermen from fishing in their own waters. To add insult to injury the crippled stocks are now being fished on by Israeli boats. Fish that later in the Gaza zone is sold for high prices to the few that can afford it. Please, if you care about these people than let your voice be heard. Talk to the Israeli embassy in your country and let them know you don't agree with what they are doing to these people. This is not a political issue, it's simply one dealing with the basic human right of being allowed to feed oneself.


    Below are a number of documents discussing the issue. All but one -the first post- are pdf files and hosted locally.

    Recent publications (2007)

    Palestinians harmed by fishing restrictions off Gaza, say UN aid officials - Israeli restrictions on where Palestinian fishermen can work in the waters off the Gaza Strip are hurting more than 40,000 people who depend on the industry as their main source of income, the United Nations humanitarian arm warned today.

    West Bank and Gaza Strip Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA)

    United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Gaza Fishing: An Industry in Danger

    Gaza Strip fisheries - Under Seize (from 2000, interesting but at many points outdated) 2000_gaza_article_underseize.pdf

    Humanitarian disaster
    The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is concerned about declining incomes in the farming and fishing sectors. With the recent imposition of severe fishing restrictions, boats are not leaving port, thus crippling the industry (as well as the income of some 35,000 people) and resulting in the absence of fish on the local market. Declining cash incomes and dwindling international aid is impairing the ability of producers to acquire seeds, fertilizer, spare parts for greenhouses, irrigation facilities and fishing boat maintenance.

    Environmental aspect
    Being confined so close to shore has meant poor catches for Gazan fishermen in terms of fish size, value and quantity. There are concerns about overfishing of pelagic fish and of demersal fish. In the Gaza marine zone there is a high density of fishermen (723 boats on 660 km2) and there is also evidence of catches of undersized or juvenile fish. In addition, there is the problem of "by-catch", but exact numbers are not known. The large trawlers catch Demersal and benthic fish, and these are the biggest threat to the fishes of Gaza strip. Especially in the shallow coastal zone, fish species are under severe threat as a result of using extensively the beach purse seine fishing to catch small, juvenile fish. Another method used in shallow waters is the plastic bottles to attract fry fish (small fish). This also affects many species of fish usually found during the spawning season near the beach. Striped sea bream (Lithognathus mormyrus) is a particular species that is threatened by this method. Studies, conducted by MI International fishermen in three fishing communities, raised concerns that too much harvesting effort was put on the fish populations with regard to a sustainable fishery. Therefore the PNA continues to put pressure on the Israeli side to increase the fishing zone, which would decrease the fishing pressure in the current zone.

    Fishing-area over the years

    ~75.000sq km
    Including the Sinai Coast, before 1978 (Camp David Treaty)

    1100sq km
    Gaza coast only, 20 nautical miles, after 1978

    660sq km
    Gaza coast only, 12 nautical miles, 1994 (Oslo Agreement agreed on 20, military refused to accept this)

    300sq km
    Gaza coast only, 6 nautical miles, October 2006 (enforced by military, no legal means, practically fishermen are not allowed to go even here)

    Fishermen, ports and ships

    711 registered vessels (OCHA, 2007) (many not in working condition):
    - Trawlers: 17
    - Purse seine: 66
    - Motorised Hasaka: ~500 (small vessels, up to 8 meter)
    - Unmotorised Hasaka: ~150 (small vessels, up to 3 meter)

    3098 registered fishermen, from the four wharfs (ships/fishermen):
    - Gaza city (471/1375)
    - Deir el Balah (67/550)
    - Mawasi Khan Yunis (97/655)
    - Mawasi Rafah (67/418).

    Overview map of the area

    Click on the map for the full version.

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    By Pepijn on 29 04 07 - 01:20 | eleven comments |

  • Animals of the Deep Dark Sea

    Ecology, Science, Weird and Funny

    Far below the surface of the seas, below the reach of all sunlight, lays a gigantic environment containing the wildest creates in all size and shapes: the deep sea.

    The deep sea is a highly hostile environment when compared to the one we have. Pressures of up to 1000 atmospheres and temperature ranging from three to ten degrees Celcius are just two examples of this. The animals that evolved here had to deal with this in order to have any change of surviving in this harsh environment. They evolved by using the hostile environment to their advantage; with huge eyes for example, or little lights to attract curious prey (remember finding Nemo?), and are often slow maturing (comparable with humans). These adaptations have led to animals so weird that Hollywood frequently uses them to model aliens or evil creatures on.

    I found a bunch of rather stunning photos of deep sea fish. The photo shoot (combined from multiple sources, made by scientists / for scientific purposes) includes lanternfish, flashlight fish, fangtooth, cookie-cutter shark and anglerfish. Their names make them worth checking out already!

    Anoplogaster cornuta or Fangtooth

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    By Pepijn on 27 04 07 - 11:47 | eleven comments |

  • The world in 3D STEREO

    Conservation, Science, Weird and Funny

    As children most of us have had the pleasure of watching dinosaurs or Transformers in 3D. We had these silly glasses with one blue and one red glass. Awesome really! Now you must understand that most scientists are just like us, they get excited from the smallest things and want to use cool gadgets. In recent years a new fad has become really popular in a variety of fields of science: 3D STEREO Imaging. Instead of Transformers and dinosaurs scientists look at images of our natural environment, everything else is the same. I've stumbled upon some rather cool examples.

    The Deep Sea - Filmed with the Underwater Stereoscopic Video Camera somewhere on the North-West coast of Western Australia this gives us some nice 3D images of deep sea life.

    The Sun - NASA made the first ever 3D images of the sun. Photos are made by the two STEREO-satellites send up in space last year. Both take a picture at the same time but as there is some distance between them the combined image is 3D.

    Microcosmos - Same idea again; spiders, insects and even deep sea dragon fish in stunning 3D for your viewing pleasure.

    If you lost your childhood set of glasses, or if your parents never gave you some, the NASA e-learning website has a good guide. You should be able to find some rigid ones in most book stores as well. Enjoy!

    A combination of two Red/Cyan anaglyph format deep sea images. Taken by Andrew Woods / Curtin University

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    By Pepijn on 24 04 07 - 21:51 | No comments |

  • The rain, the water and the climate


    Growing up in the Netherlands, in a house located three meters below sea level, in an old town situated close to the sea, all my life I have been intrigued by the grand system we developed to keep the water out. Big barrier dams and high dikes surely would protect my country for decades to come.

    In recent years all this is getting a new dimension though as every year our country gets to cope with more and more water. This water is not coming from the sea but from up the big rivers in Germany, France and the rest of Europe. As the changing climate is regularly causing periods of intense rain the Netherlands truly becomes the sink-hole where it all comes together. Instead of channelling the river water to the sea as fast as possible we now have to keep some of it here for days on end and slowly move it on towards the rising sea in order to prevent uncontrolled flooding.

    Anyway, Robert M. Blevins from Adventure Books of Seattle asked me to do some free PR here for one of their projects named The Global Warming Project. They are collecting a thousand stories of people like you and me (well, mostly you) on how climate change / global warming has an effect on your life. Interesting!

    Now one book I would be even more interested in would be one about fisheries and erosion of people's local marine environment.

  • By Pepijn on 12 04 07 - 01:29 | five comments |

  • Overfishing 101


    For I wrote an introduction on the issue of overfishing, the state of our oceans, and destructive fisheries. The four pages focus on introducing basic terminology, identifying the problem and proposing some actions.

    Overfishing basics

    1. What is overfishing

    2. Why is overfishing a problem

    3. What can I do to help

    4. Where can I find answers

    I believe it to be a fairly good introduction on the issue. Please proof me wrong though, have a look at the pages and be sure to let me know -via email, comments, or even the discussion forum- what I missed. Ideas and / or proposals for articles are welcomed as well!

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    By Pepijn on 08 04 07 - 19:32 | No comments | - About overfishing.