Yara Ahmed
Last updated: 8 April, 2013

Alexandria’s harbour – a fisherman’s reality

Winter is the cruelest month for small-scale fishermen who make their living off the coast of Alexandria. This is not rectified by the unstable conditions in the country, which have caused a great leap in prices of everything from gas to basic food items.

The fishing industry of the harbor has served as a source of income for fishermen for generations. Yet according to many, it has drastically changed over the years.

The General Authorities for Fish Resources’ (GAFRD) official website reports that the average Egyptian consumes about 16.8 kgs/year. Wild fisheries only produce about 400,000 tons of fish per year – which amounts to about 35% of the annual fish catch – while a staggering 65% comes from Aquaculture/Aqua-farming, a process of raising fish in controlled environments of ponds and containers. Though no one can deny that aquaculture is in line with the increasing needs of the consumers, it has quite an adverse effect on small fishing businesses.

ALSO READ A local’s guide on foot through Alexandria

Aquaculture is the most realistic viable approach if the fishing industry in Egypt is to succeed, but it is also a lifetime sentence for fishermen like Said. A father of three, Said had hoped to spare his kids the hardships that come hand in hand with the life of a fisherman. Yet Egypt’s dwindling economy drove him to take up his kids’ offer to come help him out at sea. “I bet that 99% of the fishermen here are in some kind of debt or another,” Said claimed.

Mohamed Khamees, a fisherman in his early 30s, was cleaning a fish net of clinging seaweed and garbage while lamenting the continuous rise in the price of nylon strings and lead sinkers: the two main components necessary for the weaving of a fishing net.

“Before the revolution, nylon strings were sold for 30 EGP/kilo, the prices have since doubled and even tripled,” says Khamees. He also called for subsidizing gas prices, breaking the monopoly some traders have on fishing equipment and issuing proper pensions.

Ashraf, the owner of a small fishing boat, blamed the decrease in production of wild fisheries on the illegal practice of catching fingerlings (baby fish). This practice greatly affects the fish population, disturbing the natural cycle of many species. Overfishing is another problem Ashraf pointed out. Alexandria’s harbor allows for tolerable conditions for small fishing businesses as opposed to other governorates in Egypt. This leads to overexploitation of certain locations over others, unbalancing the aquatic ecosystem of the Mediterranean.

Ahmed, a fisherman from El-Burullus area, regretfully stated that, “The Fishermen Union is worthless. We would be better off without it.” Most fishermen associated similar incompetence to Sheikh Al’sayadeen ­– “The Chief of Fishermen” – who far from voicing their complaints to officials, manages to complicate matters even more by issuing taxes and lengthening all bureaucratic procedures for boat licenses.

A fisherman’s livelihood is intertwined with the fickle temperament of the sea. The casting of his net is determined by the tides and the ups and downs of the wind. A fisherman can spend up to ten days with no catch and consequently no income. The government has for long marginalized this segment of small-scale fishermen who have no voice to instigate any actual positive change for their conditions. All a fisherman is left with when the tides are high, or the catch is low is to do with odd jobs to get by.

Though conditions are harsh and the day’s catch was meager, a familial air pervaded the harbor. Khamees wrapped up our interview with a sad yet poignant quote:

“I sowed a good deed, and in a moment it was lost.
To whom do I go, when my rights in my country are lost?
No hope is left, and the acquiring of sentiments is futile.”

EDITOR’S PICK Alexandria book fair: the post-Jan25 comeback