The continuous sufferings of Yemeni fishermen [Archives:2007/1019/Reportage]

January 25 2007

By: Shaima Mahmoud
For Yemen Times

Large numbers of Yemenis depend on fishing for their living and Red Sea waters are among the richest fishing areas. An army of traditional fishermen amounting to 70,000 within the traditional fishing sector suffers significant deterioration. Some warn that such deterioration results from random fishing – a problem that began 15 years ago when large fishing vessels fished with nets, which don't comply with international standards, and furthermore, sweeps fish grazing grounds, thus destroying the environment.

“If the situation remains like this, there won't be a single fish to catch on all Yemeni coasts,” warns 35-year-old fisherman Haj Munasar.

Mohammed Darwish, chief of fishermen on Aden's Meedi coast, declares that such practices have affected fishermen and caused a scarcity of fish, even during autumn when fish are more plentiful, because large fishing vessels interfere with traditional fishermen and sometimes prevent them from fishing.

However, that isn't the only problem fishermen face on coasts such as Hodeidah, as there are other problems.

“Eritrean authorities arrested me and several others while we were fishing in international waters and took us to Eritrea's Taiwah where they investigated us, asking why we were fishing in their regional waters. We replied that we were fishing in international waters, not in their regional waters,” noted 25-year-old fisherman Walid Saleh.

Saleh went on to say that the Eritrean parties held their boat and confiscated their fish, valued at approximately YR 700,000, and further fined them YR 450,000 in return for freeing the boat. “Being unable to pay, my companions and I were held for many days, but later deported on a boat whose owner had paid the required amount.

“When I reached Hodeidah fishing port, I informed the authorities, who simply registered my name and the boat's name and number, along with the name of the place where I was caught. They then asked me to leave, assuring that they would follow up my case,” Saleh recounted.

“My boat remained in Eritrea for a month and a half until I paid the fine levied upon me. I received the boat back without any fishing tools or cooking utensils. Although there was YR 300,000 worth of fuel onboard before my arrest, I received the boat with no fuel at all and anyone asking about fuel or tools was subject to beating,” he concluded.

However, the question remains as to why Yemeni fishermen fish outside of Yemeni regional waters, thus subjecting their boats to confiscation? The answer lies with 34-year-old fisherman Ahmed Sa'eed Dauballah, who says random fishing and both Yemeni and foreign fishing vessels fishing in Yemen's shallow waters cause fish to migrate. Thus, the traditional Yemeni fishermen are forced to seek other fishing grounds away from these annoying large ships, particularly when such vessels throw oil remnants and dead fish into the water.

Eritrean authorities holding Yemeni boats fishing in international or even Yemeni waters isn't new, according to Hodeidah's Yemeni Fishing Cooperative Union chairman, Omar Ibrahim Al-Junaid, who further maintains that Yemeni fishermen have been suffering such practices for years. Yemeni fishermen are asked to pay YR 1 million for large vessels – an amount equal to half of the boat's actual value – and YR 450,000 for small ones.

Al-Junaid noted that the Hodeidah union's role is confined to informing about such cases to the General Union in Sana'a and to the Fish Wealth Ministry office in Hodeidah, as those are the two official parties concerned.

He said the union presented the fishermen's sufferings to the Fish Minister and his deputy during their last visit to Hodeidah in 2005, who in turn promised to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve problems with the Eritrean authorities soon. However, they urged fishermen at that time not to go beyond Yemeni regional waters so they wouldn't clash with others.

Despite Yemen's lengthy coastal strip of approximately 2,500 kilometers, consumers still inquire about fish price hikes on the Yemeni market.

“Although officials tell us that we have great fish wealth, but fish prices suddenly rise and then we don't know why,” says one household breadwinner, Ali Hassan.

Salim Mohammed Sa'eed, general manager of fish wealth at the General Authority for Investment, replied that the prices hikes are attributed to overland fish exports via fiberglass containers, which causes the fish supply to decrease on Yemeni markets and prices to rise.

In 2003, the Yemeni Parliament presented a report warning of the risks of random fishing because it destroys the maritime environment. Furthermore, such fishing vessels operate without licenses but with the support of state officials.