Palestinian fishermen in the waters off of the Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF decided on Wednesday to expand the designated fishing zone off the coast of Gaza for the upcoming fishing season.
“COGAT decided to approve the expansion of the fishing zone along the Gaza Strip,” read a statement from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, a branch of the Defense Ministry.
The decision will increase the coastal enclave’s fishing zone from six to nine nautical miles and will go into effect on November 1 and expire approximately two months later.
COGAT said that it made the decision “to facilitate increased activity in Gaza Strip’s fishing sector, which is an [important] source of income.”
A similar measure to expand the fishing zone between April and June 2016 resulted in a 15% increase in the total output of fish, compared to the same period in 2015, according to COGAT.
The total output of the fish market in Gaza stands at NIS 6 million annually.
Amjad al-Shrafi, the secretary- general of the Gaza fisherman’s union, told The Jerusalem Post that he welcomes the expansion, but expressed his frustration that it will only last for two months. “We consider the expansion of the fishing zone an achievement of our rights as fishermen, but why will it only last for two months?” he said. “We believe the Israeli authorities should make this change permanent.”
Ibrahim Bakr, a Gazan fisherman, said that he is happy about the decision, but also is concerned it will not be fully implemented. “We support any decision to expand the fishing zone, but the Israeli authorities must allow us to take advantage of all nine miles,” he said. “When Israel expanded the zone to nine miles in April, it frequently barred us from going beyond 7.5 miles.
“On many occasions, I would go out beyond seven and eight miles and then the Israelis would yell to retreat and shoot warning shots.”
COGAT also said that it hopes to keep the zone open for the fishing season, but warned fishermen against taking advantage of the expansion.
“We emphasize that the expansion of the [fishing zone] is conditioned on the fishermen respecting the agreement [of nine nautical miles] and not exploiting it to smuggle or penetrate Israel’s territory,” the statement added.
Shrafi said the fishermen solely want to catch fish and provide for their families. “We have no interest in conflict with the Israeli authorities.
All we want is to catch fish and take care of our families,” he said.
There are approximately 4000 fishermen in Gaza today.
After the Gaza war in 2014, Israel extended the fishing zone from three to six nautical miles, a substantial increase, but far less than the 12 nautical miles from before the second intifada and 20 nautical miles stated in the Oslo Accords.