GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Since early February, Egyptian fish have become available again in the Gaza Strip after they had disappeared for nearly four years. They were unavailable due to an intensified Egyptian security crackdown on the tunnels built along the border with Rafah that started in July 2013.
Yazid Ismail stands in front of the fish market carrying a bag of Egyptian fish. He happily told Al-Monitor, “I was previously unable to purchase bass caught in the Gaza sea, due to high prices that went up to 45 shekels [$12] per kilogram [2.2 pounds, $5.45 per pound]. Today, I managed to buy 3 kilograms at once, as 1 kilogram is sold at 28 shekels.”
He added, “Fish coming from Egypt are sold at low prices, which enables large families and medium-income households to purchase fish that were usually limited to high-income earners.”
Ismail hopes that political circumstances get better in Egypt so that raw materials and goods can enter Gaza through Egypt.
Fish started coming into Gaza after Darar Alwan and his brothers repeatedly tried to contact Egyptian companies via his Mazin al-Quds company. Alwan is the official and sole supplier of fish through the crossing. Three other suppliers who import fish through the tunnels compete with him.
The company introduced 22 tons of fish in two batches through the Rafah border crossing, while undetermined quantities entered intermittently via the tunnels.
Alwan told Al-Monitor, “A year and a half ago, we contacted many Egyptian trade companies to bring fish into Gaza, whether officially through the Rafah crossing or through the tunnels. An agreement was reached with these companies, but its implementation was delayed due to Egypt’s political circumstances.”
On the fish species and how they enter Gaza, he said, “The meagre, mullet and tilapia are the types of fish we bring into Gaza through the tunnels, and they are raised in farms in el-Arish town. The sea fish are brought from Alexandria in containers filled with ice. One day and a half are required before they reach the crossing.”
Tons of fish have entered Gaza via the tunnels or officially through the Rafah border crossing, as Egypt has lately facilitated the introduction of a number of goods, including cement, iron, wheat, fish and other materials, after Hamas-Egyptian ties improved.
Atiya Abu Moussa, who transports fish from the tunnels, told Al-Monitor, “I work, along with seven others, in the transport of fish in trucks from the tunnels to Rafah, which takes us four hours. The fish are then placed in refrigerators to be sold to merchants the next morning or the same day.”
Walid Thabet, the director general of fish farming at the Gaza Ministry of Agriculture, told Al-Monitor, “Twelve thousand [metric] tons [13,200 US tons] of sea fish per year are needed in the Gaza Strip. The quantity of fishing ranges between 2,500-3,000 [metric] tons only, due to the Israeli decision to ban fishermen from going too far from shore.”
The fish coming from Egypt have compensated for the shortfall in the domestic market. Also, their price is relatively lower that those caught in the Gaza sea or those produced by aquaculture in the Gaza Strip. For instance, 1 kilogram of mullet from the Egyptian el-Arish aquafarms is sold at 15 shekels, while 1 kilogram of mullet from the Gazan aquafarms is 30 shekels.
On whether or not the entry of fish will have an impact on the Gazan fishing market, Nizar Ayyash, the head of the Gaza Fishermen Syndicate, told Al-Monitor, “Fishing requires high costs in Gaza, and the fishing quantity is small. Egyptian fish will have a negative impact on the market of fresh fish caught in the Gaza sea. Thus, fishermen will have to reduce the price of Gaza sea fish, due to a higher supply on the market, and bear the cost of fuel and boat maintenance.”
Ayyash said the quality of Egyptian fish is lower than Gaza sea fish, and added, “The required distance before fish arrive from Alexandria to the crossing or tunnels highly affects quality, which decreases significantly.”
He said demands to halt the introduction of fish from Egypt should not be granted given the limited quantity of fish that Gazan fishermen make available on the local market. He said the entry of Egyptian fish helps meet domestic market needs and availability of fish at low prices.
The quantity of Egyptian fish, along with others caught in the Gaza sea or raised in aquafarms, would temporarily help meet the needs of Gazans. The entry of fish, however, depends on the Egyptian policy toward the Rafah crossing or the security situation in the Sinai Peninsula. This signals that fish will not be available at low prices around the clock.