Yemen’s marine wealth at great risk [Archives:2006/959/Business & Economy]

June 29 2006

Raidan Al-Saqqaf
and Mahyoub Al-Kamali

Violations take place daily in Yemeni waters made by man against nature. Fishermen in the Red and Arab Seas exploit marine wealth to the maximum extent possible. Environment pollution spews into the seas, as non-existent laws fail to monitor and regulate activities that affecting the marine wealth of the country. This report attempts to shed light on the risks to Yemen's marine wealth.


Yemen has a coastline over 2,000 km long and 130 islands. The country has rich marine life and is home to over 350 species of sea creatures. Yemen also has the region's most diverse and populous coral reef located in Belhaf, which was nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yemen's marine wealth is estimated at approximately 850,000 tons, allowing a maximum production 'red zone' of 350-400 tons annually, through an unregulated, traditional fishing industry that employs over 65,000 fishermen providing a livelihood to over 400,000 people. Production in 2005 was estimated at 290,000 tons with an annual growth rate of 21.4 percent. Exports in 2003 reached 38 billion Yemeni Riyals (YR), giving an average yield of 168 YR per kg, which is less than $1 (USD) per kg.

Almost 90 percent of all fishing activity remains traditional in nature, while the other 10 percent utilized relatively advanced equipment thanks to increased investments in the industry. Such investments include the creation of a cooperative society to buy seafood wholesale from fishermen and retail the catch on the local market or pack it for export. The canned tuna industry has also seen investment as Yemen now has three canning facilities producing over 30 million cans of tuna both for the local market and for export.


Yemen's marine wealth is at risk. According to official statistics, production in 2006 is expected to reach 352,000 tons bringing Yemen into the 'red zone' with a potential for considerable damage to the ecosystems that sustain the population of fish and other marine life in the coming years. Such deterioration in marine stocks stem from traditional incompetent habits practiced by fishermen, including only the retention of only the most valuable catch and the dumping of less valuable fish)though already dead)providing space for more high-valued fish.

Abdu Al-Soqatri from Mukalla said that fishermen routinely exceed their allotted catch in fishing zones and venture into prohibited zones where they can obtain a better yield because fishing regulations are not enforced. Fishermen use various types of fishing equipment, including nets that disallow for the escape of tiny, premature fish, thereby destroying several generations of fish at once making such fishing unsustainable.

Another risk comes from international fishing companies coming from the Far East and other regions of Asia. Many of these companies use a shoveling technique to catch rare species. The practice damages coral reefs, sea life not intended to be caught, and destroys the sanctuaries where fish reproduce.

Hussain Ghaida, a fisherman from Mahara said that: “Those Asian fishing ships move about in Yemeni waters and do as they please f they are caught and fined by the Yemeni authorities, they only disappear for a little while only to come back again and hustle traditional fishermen in our own waters.”

“What we need is strong protection from the Yemeni authorities and big punishment for such international fishing ships,” added Ghaida.

An alarming development that will directly affect Yemen's marine wealth is the construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal in the sanctuary of Belhaf. An ecology expert from Oxford said that the impact of the LNG terminal will disturb the biodiversity of the region, destroying part of the Belhaf coral reef. As a result, marine life with habitats in the Belhaf area will migrate away from Yemen's waters, including a considerable amount of tuna.

Additionally, the LNG terminal and related facilities will discharge processed cooling water from its plant into the sea. Such a process is expected to raise the water temperature enough to weaken the corals and create optimal conditions for the growth of algae, which may then attack the corals and damage sea life in Belhaf further. Moreover, once the LNG terminal becomes operational, all fishermen will be banned from the area in order to allow tankers unfettered access to the port.

The published report on the impact of the LNG terminal did not provide an estimate of the areas of coral reef that will be removed for construction of the facility. Experts estimate, however, that the terminal will result in the removal of 2 km of coral reef and an extended die-back impact on an additional 4 km within the Belhaf Coral Reef, thereby destroying a marine life sanctuary described as having an outstanding universal value and vital to the sustainability of Yemen's marine wealth. Several workshops were held to discuss the environmental impact of the LNG terminal; however the results of those workshops were not publicized.

The future of Yemen's marine wealth

In 2005, Almost 90 percent of Yemen's fishing industry output originated in the Gulf of Aden and the Arab Sea. Considering that the Belhaf sanctuary is expected to suffer considerable damage as a result of the Belhaf LNG terminal, it is likely that Yemen will see a sharp drop in the production of its fisheries in the Gulf of Aden once construction is completed and the plant becomes operational. It is expected that most fishermen in the Belhaf area will resort to fishing in other locations, using other means of fishing in order to compensate for the decline in production to sustain their livelihood at the expense of sustainability of the fishing stock.

A key issue about marine wealth is its dynamic nature: the migration of fish, especially tuna, away from Yemeni waters will affect the tuna canning industry and other ancillary industries. Such an eventuality would result in reducing Yemen's non-petroleum exports, unless, of course, Yemeni policy makers undertake immediate action to preserve Yemen's marine wealth.