Pollution, over-fishing and the destruction of marine habitat are driving commercial fisheries in the port city of Aqaba, 250km south of Amman, to the brink of collapse, environmentalists and fishermen said on Sunday.
“Immediate action must be taken to stop the ongoing depletion of fish stocks and damage to the eco-system,” said Fadi Sharaiha of the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan.
Halting the destruction of coastal habitats, taking steps to control and reduce pollution, and preventing the use of dynamite in fishing would help to restore productivity in the area, he said.
"In a few years’ time, there will be no fish to catch in Aqaba port," said Sharaiha, who is urging authorities to implement strict measures against vessels that dump garbage and toxic waste in the sea.
Fears are growing that the fishing community may lose its livelihood, which would have profound social consequences with the resulting high unemployment.
For the past few months, tens of fishermen have stopped casting their nets into the nearly empty waters. Out of the 147 fishermen authorised to venture into the gulf, more than 80 have permanently anchored their boats on the shores.
Abdul Rahman Mahmoud, 44, who has been fishing since he was 12 years old, has already started looking for a new job. "Every day we hear about laws and plans to protect the sea. We need deeds not words," Mahmoud said.
Ever-increasing marine traffic in the port and building construction onshore has compounded the fishermen’s problems.
The government turned Aqaba into a free trade zone nearly five years ago in a bid to attract foreign investment and transform the area into a commercial hub. Hundreds of millions of dollars were pumped into real estate projects on the sea front, while marine traffic nearly tripled.
"We cannot have it all. We either make Aqaba a free trade zone bustling with marine traffic or [we make it] a tourism destination," Mahmoud said.
As a result of its semi-enclosed form, the Gulf of Aqaba is susceptible to marine pollution and ecosystem degradation.
Officials from the Ministry of Environment said that they were aware of the problem but admitted that their hands were tied. "We cannot create hurdles in front of investment projects," Eesa Shboul, spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, said.
Recently, parliament endorsed an environment law to protect the country's fragile eco-system in which it set penalties that include one year in prison and hefty financial fines.
The government also proposed to fishermen to ply their trade in international waters off the coast of Yemen, but the fishermen were not interested.
Abu Ali, 55, said the long journey was not feasible. "Our boats are too small to handle the expenses of a long fishing journey that lasts for weeks," said Ali. "This is our water, we must be able to fish here, not hundreds of miles away.”
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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