Yemen’s Fish Stock in Danger [Archives:1998/18/Business & Economy]

May 4 1998

Mr. Jules H. Azzopardi has recently visited Yemen with a delegation of about 20 people representing the Thames Valley Trade Mission to Yemen. The delegation also visited Hodeida and Aden. A lawyer by training, Mr. Azzopardi grew up in Aden and was educated in Britain.
Bin Sallam of Yemen Times met Mr. Azzopardi and filed the following interview:
Q: What is the purpose of your visit to Yemen?
A: I have come to meet with government officials in order to discuss setting up a private company. I have talked to some people here and told them that there is very good assistance coming from abroad.
I had offered a lot of business opportunities which I have on my desk.
Q: What projects are you going to support? And in which governorates?
A: Since last November, I think about 24 different projects mainly concentrated around Aden were endorsed.

Q: How do you view the future of the fish industry in Yemen?
A: There is something which is too important for me to ignore. It is a matter that is important not only for the people of Yemen but for the whole world. It concerns the future of our children and our children’s children.
Yemen is trying to wake up from a sleep of 30 years. It has potentially a very great future, not just the oil, the port or the minerals but many other things. But the most important thing is the fishing industry. The prospects are not clear but on one report that I have seen, Fisheries account for 29.6% of the domestic product, which is higher than oil.
It is difficult to attract investment or to promote investment without having sufficient capital. You have that capital. You are sitting on a very valuable resource now which is fisheries. Unfortunately, it is being damaged by those who fish illegally.
Experts who are paid by the World Bank and the European Union have produced about 91 reports indicating that there are so many ways by which Yemen can be rich. What I want to say is that the fishing industry has not properly acquired the best it can.
Prawns are now turning over $20 million a year. According to the projects proposed by the experts, that can become $50 million. One year and then you will fish less. The lobster is now only 20% of what it was in 1994. If it carries on like this the lobster will be lost. The cattle fish reserve is almost destroyed. That was worth at least $30 million every year.
All that happened because of the illegal fishing – fishing when the cattle fish is reproducing. Even today, people are using dynamite to fish. They still fish in an unorganized way.
You know that when lobsters are caught, the females and the little ones must be returned to the water to reproduce. If people go on the same way as it is now in fishing lobsters, the lobsters, which are a very valuable resource, will die out. In England, we made a mistake of over-fishing. We don’t want to do the same mistake here. What I want to see in the fisheries management is that they should license the work with a computer system.
What I want to say is that fish is a very valuable natural resource. The process of fishing must be directed by the government. I have a card here of 80 species of fish which are being exported to Europe and to other parts of the world. I now can fetch US $ 30 million for a company that wants to export it.

The Ministry of Fisheries has had for the last 4 years a proposal for a new legislation. I’m not saying that the present legislations are not good. They are good but they are not sufficient. What is necessary is to establish a corporation or company which is going to be managed by these experts for a maximum of 5 years. Most of the work will be done during the first year and then the work will be gradually given to people of Yemen to manage that by themselves.
Nobody has to pay any money. They employ 800 people. About 2,500 people in the Ministry of Fisheries are being paid without doing any effective work. Those people will be highly trained to be specialists at the expense of the World Bank. There will be computers to organize the process of fishing and everything concerning the fishing industry.
What we want to do, first of all, is to stop illegal and unplanned fishing. I would lie to say that in 5 years time they can take 5% from the work that has been created here as a substantial part. Around 5% will go to education and the other 5% will go to making use of the natural resources.
Q: Any last comments?
A: The people of Yemen want a change, and they deserve it. You have suffered a lot during the last 30 years. It is time to give the people of Yemen a chance.
There are some strong-minded commercial people. They have a lot of support from some people I know in England. We have an Aden club in which we meet every year for dinner. We talk about Aden and Yemen.
I know a woman who paints nice pictures about Yemen. She has an exhibition in July and for that she wants to come to Yemen to make more paintings. There are very strong links between Yemen and Britain. Perhaps we had some differences in the past but the future can be perfect. The Yemeni people know how to make business and they don’t want very much help to do it. With some efforts we can make Yemen certainly the best example for the Middle East.

The government has done a very smart thing the last 15 years, reducing taxes and the tax-free holiday. We hope that the government of Britain can do the same. The next thing that I want the government to do is to implement this new legislation and this new system which will be an example to the rest of the world. We have experts who already applied it in other parts of the world. They will need time and they will do it. They do it free of charge because the world needs to save its fish resources. I’m hoping that any alternative to this system can do just as much or even more. No money is required here. We are sitting on a very valuable resource. Not only will Yemen become the commercial goal of the Middle East, it will be an example of an integrity and of how a system should be run.