Mr. Awadh Mahfoodh: “Yemeni coast guards need more modern and fully equipped boats to be able to stop violations of Yemen’s territorial waters.” [Archives:1998/14/Interview]

April 6 1998

Mr. Awadh Mahfoodh is the General Director of Planning, Statistics, and Follow-up at the Ministry of Fish Wealth. He talked to Dr. Salah Haddash, Yemen Times Managing Editor, who filed the following interview.
Q: What are the major plans of the Ministry of Fish Wealth?
A: The third stage of the first five-year plan covers several projects. This includes the completion of the fisheries sector infrastructure, which consists of constructing 6 fishing facilities at as many fishing sites on eastern coastal strip in Hadhramaut and Al-Mahara. At a cost of $39.8 million, this project is the biggest in he fisheries sector within the five-year plan. It is jointly financed by the World Bank, the European Union, and the International Agricultural Development Fund. About 80% of this project has been completed now.
Q: Could you give us a brief idea on the Yemeni territorial waters?
A: The Yemeni territorial waters extend to 200 miles off the shoreline. Conventional fishing takes place within 3 miles from the shore. Larger fishing boats are allowed to fish up to within 6 miles.
Fish is caught with nets, brought to special facilities on the shore where there are cold stores. The fish is then transported to the main storage facilities to be sold.
Q: How important is transportation in the fish production process?
A: Transportation plays a major part. Coastal areas are still in need of good roads and transport facilities. Fishermen usually complain of the rugged roads between the coastal areas and the inland fish markets.
Fishermen also rely on costly fishing boats and equipment, which are usually imported from abroad. Although there are new boat manufacturing plants in Aden and Hadhramaut, the number of manufactured boats is limited and their cost is still rather high.
Q: Foreign fishing boats enter the Yemeni territorial waters to fish illegally there. They usually have no agreements with Yemen.
How do you tackle this problem?
A: Violations of the Yemeni territorial waters sometimes stake place. This is due to the weakness of monitoring and coast-guard activities. The boats available at the coast guard disposal are not sufficient to do the job. The Ministry of Fish Wealth aims to obtain modern boats in order to protect the Yemeni coasts. Moreover, the Ministry is in need of communication equipment so that the relevant directorate can get in regular daily contact with fishing sites. We are still waiting for the government to provide us with our needs.
Q: What are the nationalities of boats illegally fishing in the Yemeni territorial waters?
A: The violating boats that are caught in the Red Sea are usually Egyptian. Legal measures have been taken to put an end to these violations. A number of boats were confiscated and some such cases are currently being reviewed by the prosecutor’s office. The Yemeni coast guards certainly need more modern and fully equipped boats. Violations taking place in the Arabian Sea are now more under control.
Q: Do these ships look for particular types of fish?
A: They mainly fish for squids, rock lobsters.
Q: Do these fishing boats damage the environment?
A: There is no doubt that the fishing boats which illegally enter Yemen would want to catch as much fish as possible, damaging the environment in the process.
Q: Has there been a major environmental disaster in Yemen? How do you plan to avert such disasters?
A: Up to now there are no big environmental damages. We aim to protect the marine environment. The Marine Environment Protection Center, established in 1990, closely follows any environmental changes or damage. We also started in 1993 the marine environment protection project in Hodeida, in cooperation with the UN. This project is scheduled to be completed in 1999. It will monitor merchant ships, oil tankers, environmental damage, etc.
Q: What is the extent of private-sector participation in the fisheries sector?
A: Private-sector participation is increasing. There are about 15 private companies working in the fishing sector. There is a tax equivalent to 20% of the fish catch and 30% of the crustaceans and mollusks catch which must be paid to the state.
Moreover, a private investor pays 2% as marketing commission to the state, and once pays a fee for the development of the Ministry.
All these taxes are paid after the fishing activity and before marketing or exporting the catch.
Q: Are the fishing companies, whether Yemeni or foreign, obliged to market a proportion of their catch inside Yemen?
A: Most of the proportion of catch levied by the state goes to the local market. Also, fishing companies are obliged to sell 50% of the catch in the local market.
Q: Does the amount of fish and other marine life caught increase from Year to year?
A: There is no doubt the amount of fish caught annually increases. The total catch was 79,893 tons in 1992, 82,365 tons in 1993, 81,884 in 1994, 108,603 in 1995, and 105,052 in 1996. Due to some difficulties encountered in some of these years, the fishing process was hindered.
The Ministry has been able to overcome these problems. Consequently the fish catch rose to 123,000 tons during 1997.
Q: What are the conditions imposed on people who wish to obtain fishing licenses?
A: An investment company applying to the Ministry of Fish Wealth must have enough experience in fishing. A deposit of YR 2 million must be paid by the fishing company for every fishing boat during one year.
Q: Are individual Yemeni fishermen also obliged to obtain fishing licenses?
A: Individual fishermen do not have to pay a license fee, but only to obtain a profession card from the Ministry of Fish Wealth. This card is valid for 3 years at a token fee that does not exceed YR500 per year.
Q: Are individual fishermen obliged to pay taxes, monetary or in kind, to the government?
A: No, they do not have to pay such taxes.
Q: Are the licenses issued by the Ministry usually valid for fishing in all Yemeni waters, or are they restricted to certain areas or seasons?
A: The license are issued to include several regions such as the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden or the Arabian Sea.
Q: How many areas are designated for fishing in Yemen?
A: All in all, there are 5 fishing regions: the Red Sea, the western part of the Gulf of Aden (from Bab Al-Mandab to Arqa), the middle region of the Gulf of Aden (from Arqa to Ras Ba-Ghashwa), the eastern part of the Gulf of Aden (from Ras Ba-Ghashwa to Gorbat Ali), and the Socotra Island.
Q: What are the favorite regions for the fishing companies?
A: This depends on the type of fish they want to catch. There is now a lot of activity in the Red Sea to catch all sorts of fish and marine life, especially crabs.
Q: What do these fishing companies do out of season? Do they stop or are they allowed to fish in other regions?
A: Every company granted the right to fish in Yemen’s territorial waters is allocated specific amounts of catch, according to the type of fish. For commercial marine creatures such as squids, specific fishing seasons are allocated. Fishing companies are obliged to stick to these seasons.
Q: Is the Ministry the body which grants licenses to form fishing cooperatives?
A: The Ministry plays a certain role in the formation of fishing cooperatives, but licensing is done by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs.
The Ministry of fish Wealth supports fishing cooperatives and individual fishermen alike. We provide them with boats, fishing equipment, nets, and other facilities at prices at least 20% lower than the market prices. This is done to encourage fishermen and allow them to cover their expenses and make profits. Fishermen may pay for these equipment in installments or in cash.
Q: Is there a fund set up to help fishermen?
A: The Agricultural Bank of Borrowing does this task. It get loans from Arab and international funds. An agreement was made with the Agricultural Bank of Borrowing to provide the Ministry with a loan of $3 million in order to assist fishermen.
Q: What are the countries from which fishing companies come to legally fish in Yemeni territorial waters?
A: Many fishing companies come from China, South Korea, Thailand, and Egypt.
Q: Do Yemeni fishermen tend to work individually or within cooperatives?
A: They set up their own associations, which are increasing in number. In the eastern and southern regions, there were about 13 fishermen cooperatives. Now there are about 20 such associations. The Ministry now aims to establish a general federation for these fishermen associations.
Q: Are there any estimates of the number of Yemeni fishermen?
A: According to the last survey, there are about 140,000 fishermen. Individual fishermen or those within associations contribute about 75% of the total fish production in Yemen. The remaining 25% is produced by the large companies.
Q: What countries and organizations provide assistance to the Ministry?
A: They are Japan, EU countries, the World Bank, and the International Agricultural Development Fund. We started cooperating with the World Bank in 1974.
Q: How large is Yemen’s fish reserve?
A: The annual fish reserve is about 400,000 tons.