People in Gaza can hardly afford fish

People in Gaza can hardly afford fish — and Israeli restrictions are making it even harder for farmers

Robert LeslieAmelia Kosciulek and Mark Abadi 

  • One man has looked inland for answers — and built his own fish farm in 2008.
  • The Israeli navy imposes limits on where people from Gaza can fish for security reasons.
  • The restrictions are pushing Gazans to set up fish farms on land.
  • Meanwhile, high unemployment and poverty mean not all Gazans can afford to buy fish.

Following is a transcript of an episode of Business Insider Today. Watch the full episode here.

Sea bream dishes like this are a favorite here in Gaza. 

But catching the fish isn’t always easy, despite the region bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Heavy restrictions imposed by Israel affect how far fishermen can go and what kind of fish they can catch. And many fear coming under fire while they’re out at sea. 

One fish farmer managed to build a successful business despite economic challenges and political instability.

Fishing is a way of life for over 3,500 people living in this small Palestinian territory. 

But the ongoing naval blockade limits the area available for fishing, which can be up to 15 nautical miles from the coast, but often is less than that.

Straying too close to the fishing limits can mean arrest and the confiscation of boats and nets.

The Israeli navy has also been known to fire on boats, resulting in damage — and casualties.

Ahmad Jamal Abu Hamada, fisherman: “Fishermen are peaceful people. We don’t carry weapons, stones or knives. We are out working to provide for our families.”

This blockade was imposed because Gaza is governed by Hamas, which is seen as a terrorist organization by Israel and many Western countries. 

But it also impacts what fish the crews can catch. The closer to shore, the lower the quality and quantity of fish, and the lower the profits.

That’s why people like Hassan have looked for alternative solutions. 

He decided to open a fish farm at the height of the blockade in 2008, away from the fluctuating fortunes, and dangers, of the open sea.

Sea bream is a favorite in Gaza and is served in many of the local restaurants — for those who can afford it. 

Hassan Mahmoud al-Shaer, Fish Fresh fish farm: We started with 80,000 [fish] and moved to 200,000, 300,000 and 400,000, and now we stand at 1.5 million, and God willing, this year we will reach 2 million fish.”

The fish are incubated for three months before spending a year in large pools where they grow to maturity.

Hassan produces 25 to 30 tons of fish a month, mainly sea bream.

But he used to produce a third more. With 50% unemployment and high levels of poverty, demand in Gaza has its limits.

He feels that if given open borders and access to an export market, he could grow.

“I want to expand [my business], hire more workers, and bring bigger facilities and to make a tuna factory but we don’t have the roads, the crossings are closed, we don’t have an airport. We don’t have anything.”

“Things changed. We are not able to sell anymore. We are living under siege,” one fish merchant said. 

For now, Hassan employs 70 people and manages to turn a profit, selling a kilogram of fish for about $5.

Sea bream is a favorite in Gaza and is served in many of the local restaurants — for those who can afford it.

Back out at sea, these fishermen take in a catch of squid, sardines, and sea bream at a distance of nine nautical miles from shore.

But it’s one thing to catch, and another to sell.

Mahmoud Hosni Abu Hassirah, fish merchant: “The situation affects us. As you see, you are standing in a fish market in the Gaza Strip, without any clients and people buying the fish.”

“Fifteen years ago, we used to sell 300 to 400 kilograms daily. Today, unfortunately, we sell 20 or 30 kilograms, and selling 40 kilograms is considered to be a good day.”

“Things changed. We are not able to sell anymore. We are living under siege. People can’t afford food or to buy food. We are not able to sell. In the past, we used to buy and sell, but we don’t have that today.” 

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