Gaza’s first marine fish farm helps offset dwindling catches

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GAZA, September 20 (Reuters) – A fish farm established in the Mediterranean Sea off Gaza last year has started producing sea bream for the local market as well as for export to the occupied West Bank, providing a boost welcome to diets and well-needed cash for the economy.

The facility, established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in partnership with Italy about four nautical miles offshore, is part of a series of projects aimed at strengthening the industry of local fishing and developing businesses in Gaza.

Fish exports have recently been hit by restrictions imposed by Israel in August, but these are expected to be eased.

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Gaza’s fishing boats have long operated under a strict blockade imposed by both Israel and Egypt, which has made operating too expensive for many and reduced the size of their catches, hampering the economic development of Gaza. enclave, where a little more than half of the population lives. in poverty.

Abdel-Naser Madhi, manager of the offshore fish farm project, said the new facilities are helping to bring vital funds to the fishing industry and create stronger export links.

Madhi added that he expected the production of 60 to 80 tonnes of sea bream in the first year to be split between markets in Gaza and the West Bank. West Bank dealers were competing to buy fish from the project, he said.

The fishing industry has been hit by export bans imposed by Israel, which controls access for Gazan exports to markets in the occupied West Bank, and which has waged repeated wars with Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers .

In August, when Israel bombed targets linked to the Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza during a brief three-day campaign, exports were halted for two weeks before being allowed to resume at just a fifth of the normal level of 100 tons a month, an amount the Palestinians said was insufficient.

Israel’s Agriculture Ministry said on Tuesday that the reduced level was linked to public health concerns following the illegal smuggling of fish from Gaza, but that Israel had decided to set the quota at 40 tonnes.

Yasser Al-Haj, who owns a beachfront restaurant and onshore fish farms that produce up to 300 tonnes of sea bream a year, 80% of which is exported to the West Bank, said exports would resume on Wednesday.

“We suffered huge losses. We agreed to resume exports on the promise that the Israelis would gradually increase the amount allowed,” he said.

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Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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