In block­aded Gaza Strip, fish farms pro­vide re­lief for lovers of seafood

The China Post - - LIFE - BY FARES AKRAM

The Gaza Strip, with a 40-kilo­me­ter (25-mile) Mediter­ranean coast­line, was al­ways known for its seafood un­til Is­rael re­stricted the fish­ing area.

As a re­sult, Pales­tini­ans have be­gun im­port­ing fish and other seafood from Is­rael or Egypt and — in re­cent years — build­ing fish farms.

Is­rael im­posed a block­ade on Gaza in 2006 af­ter Ha­mas mil­i­tants cap­tured an Is­raeli sol­dier and tight­ened the clo­sure the fol­low­ing year af­ter Ha­mas seized con­trol of the ter­ri­tory. Is­rael says the re­stric­tions are needed to pre­vent Ha­mas, a mil­i­tant group sworn to its de­struc­tion, from smug­gling weapons into the ter­ri­tory. The sides have fought three wars since the Ha­mas takeover.

At times of height­ened ten­sions, the fish­ing zone was barely three nau­ti­cal miles. To­day, it is six miles, still half of the pre-block­ade dis­tance.

The fish farms have helped bring down prices of the popular sea bream fish. But an­other popular item, shrimp, re­mains ex­tremely ex­pen­sive, cost­ing up to US$25 a kilo­gram (US$11 a pound).

Rezek al-Salmi, who worked at an Is­raeli fish­ery for 20 years, is try­ing to change this. He has built Gaza’s first shrimp farm in Khan You­nis in south­ern Gaza.

In 2014, Gaza fish­er­men caught only two tons of fish from the sea, meet­ing a small frac­tion of Gaza’s needs, said Walid Tha­bet of Gaza’s Agri­cul­ture Min­istry. There are four com­mer­cial fish farms in Gaza, most of them pro­duc­ing bream. Last year, they pro­duced 220 tons, Tha­bet said. Other fish is im­ported from Is­rael.

Fish Fresh, the largest grower of bream in Gaza, serves ev­ery­day peo­ple and restau­rants.

“This place is a won­der­ful al­ter­na­tive to the sea for fresh fish,” cus­tomer Ibrahim Moussa said.

Rafah restau­rant owner Abu el-Amir Zurob said rough seas can limit catches. “Some­times there is no fish for five days, so there is noth­ing but th­ese farms to get the fish. They helped us so much.”

But not ev­ery­one is wel­com­ing the farms. “When there is a lot of fish, when the farms pro­duce so much, its price goes down,” said Sami al-Hessi, a fish­er­man.

AP

In this Fri­day, June 5 photo, Pales­tini­ans dis­play fish for sale in the fish mar­ket of Gaza City.

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