BEIRUT: Just like any other day, Jamal Farhat, treasurer at the Fishermen’s Cooperative in Ouzai, Lebanon, prepares his fishing net, hooks, and reels, ready to go out at sea.
It’s a world of freedom, he tells Annahar.
“The deep ocean is where I can be myself,” he says, adding “that is what I and other fishermen love about it, only if it weren’t for the challenges facing us on a daily basis.”
That changes with every setback, be it sea reclamation, pollution, or harsh weather conditions, which Lebanese fishermen are all too familiar with.
Meeting at Riba Cafe, a fish restaurant in Ouzai, Farhat lamented the damages caused by the recent storms that hit the coastline, leading to financial losses among fishermen.
And it doesn’t end there. Farhat and his fellow fishermen awoke on Monday to the shocking sight of waste riddling Lebanon’s beaches, which only made matters worse.
The reason for this disaster, experts say, is the makeshift “temporary” Costa Brava and Bourj Hammoud landfills.
The trash that has found its way into the sea has even driven the fish away.
“We catch plastic and wood instead of fish, which ruins our nets,” he says, “you might place your fish net in the sea water, and never get it again.”
Due to the lack of aid and funding, these fishermen end up carrying the financial burden of the government’s incompetence.
“The Ministry of Agriculture doesn’t help us,” Farhat tells Annahar.
“One would expect them to promote our craft, providing us with fishing nets and motors for our boats,” he adds.
A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that “a fisher-owner in Lebanon earns lower than the average range of a salary of the country.” Lebanese fishermen earn an average of 3,000 USD per year, which is significantly less than the 5,400$ minimum wage.
Many residents of Ouzai, which is also known as "Ouzville" for its colorful buildings and graffiti, work as fishermen. (Annahar Photo/ Zeina Nasser)
Yet, the fishermen’s cooperative tries to help as much as possible.
“If fixing the boat or motor costs 1000$, we give them 500$,” Farhat notes.
The cooperative, through a joint initiative with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), has been able to throw a lifeline to these fishermen.
The lack of government support is not just limited to equipment.
Fishermen also do not receive any health insurance, says Farhat, emphasizing that they always raise their demands, but in vain.
Entrance to Riba cafe, a sea food restaurant in Ouzai, Lebanon. (Annahar Photo/ Zeina Nasser)
However, a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture told Annahar that the Ministry is not to blame for this “negligence of fishermen’s rights,” mentioning that a “draft law including 114 articles is yet to be ratified by Parliament.”
The law that pertains to fishing rights has not been amended since 1929, with Lebanon’s Parliament failing to introduce even the slightest changes, the official says.
Farhat echoes the concerns of many other fishermen, laying out to Annahar the lack of governmental oversight to preserve the sea’s cleanliness.
Inconsiderate Lebanese dumping trash in the waters is a common sight he says, describing the scenes as “frightening”.
A report issued in 2013 by the Ministry of Environment on Solid Waste Management in Lebanon, said 2,040,000 tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is produced per year. And while the majority of the waste is organic, paper and plastics form a significant percentage as well.
“It is no secret that plastic waste has severe consequences on marine life and has been a major concern for Mediterranean countries,” says Dr. Milad Fakhri, Director of the National Center for Marine Sciences (NCMS).
Different types of local fish appear in a sea food restaurant in Ouzai, Lebanon. (Annahar Photo/ Zeina Nasser)
Farhat believes that the government should do more to help, by enforcing rules and regulations that protect the seas.
This would then motivate people like him to continue practicing their “passion”.
Farhat believes that if a number of solutions were implemented, fishermen would face fewer difficulties while they're out in the waters.
“If factories stop throwing sewage into the sea and polluting our waters, our livelihood wouldn’t be jeopardized,” he said.
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