Israeli restrictions on where Palestinian fishermen can work in the waters off the Gaza Strip are hurting more than 40,000 people who depend on the industry as their main source of income, the United Nations humanitarian arm warned today.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) called for an immediate easing of the restrictions given that April is the start of the annual high season, when fish migrate from the Nile Delta region in Egypt to Turkish waters across the Mediterranean Sea.
Under current restrictions, Palestinians are allowed to fish only up to six nautical miles off the Gaza coast, whereas a deal in 2002 between the UN and Israel allowed for fishing up to 12 miles off the coast and the Oslo Accords of 1993 gave fishing rights for up to 20 miles.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have said the restrictions are necessary to prevent Palestinians smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip.
Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, described the relaxation of restrictions as critical.
“Being confined so close to shore has meant poor catches for Gazan fishermen in terms of fish size, value and quantity,” she said, adding that fish stocks have depleted because many natural breeding grounds are close to shore.
Many of the Israeli restrictions seem to be imposed arbitrarily, OCHA said in a press release, with fishing allowed in some locations but not others, and on some days but not others. It called for a means of communication between Israeli naval boats and Palestinian fishermen to reduce the hazards.
OCHA also said that many Gaza residents now buy fish imported from Israel at a much higher price because of the restrictions, placing the commodity out of reach of many people.
For the families of the fishermen, the reduced income means they have become progressively impoverished over the past six years, and now depend on aid and jobs from the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and other humanitarian agencies.